Apr 29

The Problem with Pay in Social Work

Author: Ebony L. Davis

Social workers are at the forefront of mental health care, providing critical support to diverse individuals and communities. They play a crucial role in identifying and addressing mental health challenges in schools, hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, foster care, veteran’s hospitals, and prisons. In any significant system, you can and will find a social worker there supporting some of the most vulnerable clients and communities.

In fact, social workers are often the first point of contact for individuals seeking support. Social workers use their specialized expertise to connect clients with resources, support them in achieving wellness and assist them in navigating complex systems. Social Workers are unlike any other profession, as their training is grounded in working with the person and operating within various complex systems. 

As such, we must recognize the inequities in pay within the field of behavioral health toward social workers. Many social workers are being paid poorly compared to their counterparts – psychologists, nurses, public health officials, etc. This, in return, has contributed to a workforce shortage in mental health care. Achieving pay equity for social workers requires a concerted effort from policymakers, employers, and society as a whole.

These efforts include but are not limited to:

Equitable Pay

Implementing fair pay policies, especially for minorities and women, as Black women are the largest population practicing social work. The current pay gap for minority women makes it difficult for social workers to meet their basic needs often and move up the socioeconomic ladder.


Lower the Cost of Education

 Decrease the cost and financial burden of obtaining an education in social work and continuing education needed to be clinically licensed. Many employers do not support social workers in obtaining continuing education to maintain their licenses. This cost, along with other statutes that require fingerprinting and other public safety measures, makes operating as a social worker expensive. 

Fix the Broken Healthcare System

The current healthcare system has limitations that restrict access to affordable behavioral healthcare services. This situation has contributed to several major crises in the country and has led many competent practitioners to leave insurance networks. As a result, many providers have opted only to accept self-pay clients, which is more efficient and cost-effective for them.

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