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March is Social Work Month

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Another year has come and gone, and another March is upon us. That means that once again it’s Social Work Month. The National Association of Social Workers published a piece for Social Work Month 2019 in which they called it “an opportunity for social workers around the nation and world and their supporters to educate the public about the invaluable contributions of the profession. Every day, the nation’s 680,000 social workers work to empower and elevate millions of people, including some of the most vulnerable in our society.” The piece underscores the fact that pay for social workers lags behind those of other, comparable professions. This is unfortunate, especially considering all the good social work does for society — both on an ongoing basis, and when looking back historically on the field.

According to payscale.com, the average total compensation for a mid-career social worker (five to ten years of experience) earns an average total compensation of just $46,000 USD. Low as that may seem, the issue isn’t new. Back in 2011, the USC Suzanne Dwoarak-Peck School of Social Work published a blog on the issue. “Social workers have always been underpaid,” it reads. “One reason for this is that women, in general, are underpaid and 75% of social workers are women. Another reason is the broad nature of our profession, which spans across many occupations. In this vast playing field, it is often hard to see how social workers make unique contributions. As a result, people with less training are easily able to stake a claim and undercut professional social work jobs at lower salaries.”

The upshot, explained in that blog and still true today, is that for many social workers, “the mission trumps the money.” In other words, this field is made up of dedicated professionals who entered the social work profession specifically because they wanted to help people.  It’s true that what we do, we don’t do primarily for money. But saying that does not mean we cannot also acknowledge the incredible contributions social workers make to society every day. We prevent problems. We mediate and remediate. We help clients to overcome problems, integrate to productive society, and become better able to cope with their problems and their families’ problems. We do so much and, while we don’t have our hands out, it would be nice to be compensated in a manner commensurate with what we do and how we do it. We’re simply not comfortable talking about it.

Eva Forde, an MSSW writing for socialworker.com, explains that there are several reasons we don’t often talk about, or complain about, social worker pay. The profession began as a means of helping the poor, focusing on resources not generally connected (or connected directly) to money. We provide service and we’re giving people, she says; we don’t have a high regard for wealth and often see it as contrary to the goals of social work. We’re also actively discouraged from talking about money because this is seen as detracting from the people-first goal of the profession. The fact remains, though, that we do deserve to be fairly compensated… and there’s no reason we can’t say so.

What do you think? Did you get into this field for the money? Do you feel you are underpaid? Would an increase in pay be likely to keep you in social work, or does your love for the job eclipse that consideration? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments… and remember, March is your month. We value and appreciate you.

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