Making Money in Social Work: Breaking the Low Pay Myth

Social workers are often told, alongside the pity glance, that the field is low pay & you’ll burn yourself out trying to survive. Though I agree that the field is terribly underpaid and undervalued, I do believe that too much weight is given to the underpaid aspect of social work. So how can we make money in this field?

Micro Level

In order to build wealth, it is essential to have multiple streams of income. This is a concept widely beyond social work, but notable in financial and business circles. Of course, having a work-life balance is important, so this can look like whatever fits your needs. Ideas for increasing streams of income include beginning a social media brand, where you can collaborate with others, receive sponsorships, pay from AdSense/advertisements, and other income related to this. Social media is a core advertiser and content platform, and can take the shape of a YouTube channel, Instagram page, blog, or podcast. This doesn’t have to be related to social work either, but could provide a creative outlet that also turns a profit. Related to this is beginning a business, such as an online store or Etsy shop. My Etsy shop serves largely as passive income. It takes work and effort, but certainly not the extent of having second job. And again, it doesn’t have to be related to your education or professional skills, but could take the shape of other hobbies or interests.

Alongside multiple streams of income, don’t neglect the years of education and practice you have. Perhaps you could use this to become a lecturer or professor, do fee-for-service therapy work, teach online courses, write a book, facilitate study groups, or begin a private practice. Gathering expertise in the field can lead to more opportunities, and thereby result in higher pay and multiple incomes.

When it comes to finding a job, the interview process and negotiating pay can be significant in your work and length of stay at the agency. Just as much as you’re being interviewed, flip questions to the interviewers to ensure they provide a space that facilitates growth and a healthy workplace. This includes pay and negotiating a salary. Though it may take practice and experience, it will become second nature. Understand that your profession, skill, and education is a hot commodity. You are valued and agencies NEED social workers. Even if you feel the ask is unrealistic, you never know until you put down the offer.

Mezzo Level

Changing agency policy and expectations is essential to increasing pay in the field as a whole. As you’ll read on, practice at the agency level can largely be influenced by larger policy or norms. However, it can also work in the opposite direction. If agencies begin to pay social workers reflective of their experience and education, this will further assist in professionalizing the field and creating norms for higher pay that equates to education. No Master’s Degree should be receiving minimum wage. Whether you’re employed at an agency or are starting one, changes at the mezzo level will help break this cycle of requiring higher education with no increase in pay.

Macro Level

Advocating for professionalism standards, including required levels of education and licensure is an overarching goal that can drastically change the social work profession, pay, and public view. With more consistency in licensure, title protection, and professionalism, social work’s public perception will change and more employers and agencies will have to change as well. Social workers must come together to fight for pay changes, protections, and standards if results are to be seen at all levels.

Social work is a phenomenal profession, but it comes with its issues, adequate and reflective pay being one of them. As social workers, we must come together so that we are provided with financial wellbeing. We are highly skilled and educated professionals, and the money is out there. However, we must continue searching, fighting, and advocating for it at a larger scale. In the mean time, don’t neglect the education and skillset you have, and branch out to create multiple streams of income have the potential to allow for financial freedom.

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