Social Work - Employment Trends

multicolored hands in a circle
Multicolored hands in a circle

According to the US Department of Labor, the projected outlook for overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 19% from 2012 to 2022. Job prospects are expected to be favorable, particularly for social workers who specialize in the aging population or work in rural areas. The growing elderly population and the aging baby boom generation will create greater demand for health and social services, resulting in rapid job growth among gerontological social workers. Employment of social workers in private social service agencies also will increase.

Nationally, employment of child, family, and school social workers is expected to grow by about 12 percent, which is as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for child and family social workers should continue, as these workers are needed to investigate child abuse cases, place children in foster care and with adoptive families. Demand for school social workers will continue and lead to more jobs as efforts are expanded to respond to rising student enrollments, as well as the continued emphasis on integrating children with disabilities into the general school population. There could be competition for school social work jobs in some areas because of the limited number of openings. The availability of Federal, State, and local funding will be a major factor in determining the actual job growth in schools

Mental health and substance abuse social workers will grow by almost 20 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is much faster than the average. In particular, social workers specializing in substance abuse will experience strong demand. Persons with substance abuse problems are increasingly being placed into treatment programs instead of being sentenced to prison. Also, growing numbers of persons with substance abuse problems sentenced to prison or probation are, increasingly being required by correctional systems to have substance abuse treatment added as a condition to their sentence or probation. As this trend grows, demand will strengthen for treatment programs and social workers to assist people on the road to recovery. Opportunities for social workers in private practice will expand, as they are preferred over more costly psychologists. Furthermore, the passage of legislation that requires insurance plans offered by employers to cover mental health treatment in a manner that is equal to treatment of physical health may increase the demand for mental health treatment.

Growth of medical and public health social workers is expected to be about 22 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. One of the major contributing factors is the rise in the elderly population. These social workers will be needed to assist in finding the best care and assistance for the aging, as well as to support their families. Employment opportunities for social workers with backgrounds in gerontology should be excellent, particularly in the growing numbers of assisted-living and senior-living communities. The expanding senior population also will spur demand for social workers in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, home care agencies, and hospices.

In Maine, 4,050 social workers are employed with the most being employed as child, family, and school social workers (1,580) and in mental health and substance abuse settings (1,300).2 Average annual salaries for social workers in Maine range from $46,650 to $55,790.2 The state has the highest number of jobs for mental health and substance abuse social workers in the country and that number is projected to grow by 8.2% by the year 2022.2,3 Overall, social worker jobs in Maine are projected to increase by 5.1% during the same time period which amounts to about 100 average annual openings per year.3