How Much Do Social Workers Make in California?

Written by Sam Medley

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Social work is all about helping others. But no matter how driven you are, there’s one important question to consider before you dive headlong into advocacy — how much do social workers in California make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s (BLS) 2022 report, social workers in California make an average salary between $66,340 and $88,380. Your own salary can vary depending on  location, education, experience, and what type of social work you do. In this FAQ, we’ll explore these variables by answering the most common questions about social worker salaries in California.

What Type of Social Worker Makes the Most in California?

The BLS divides social workers into four categories. At $88,380, health care social workers have the highest average salary in California. Mental health and substance abuse social workers come in a close second at $81,720. Social workers, all other (a category that includes professionals in other specialties) come in third at $69,530. Child welfare, family, and school social workers come in fourth with an average salary of $66,340.

Not sure which path to take? Read more about different social work specialties and how you can make a difference.

How Much Can I Increase My Salary?

While averages can be helpful, they don’t paint a full picture of how much a social worker in California can make. Fortunately, the BLS tracks how much the most well-paid social workers in California make every year.

The highest-earning social workers in California make:

Your own salary potential depends on a number of factors, but many of the top-earning professionals have Master’s degrees in Social Work (MSWs), years of experience, and are often Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs).

How Much Do Social Work Administrators Make?

California’s social service agencies don’t just need talented frontline professionals — they need compassionate administrators who can plan effective programs, devise equitable policies, and allocate resources efficiently. Nationally, social and community service managers make an average salary of $79,310. In California, their average is $84,220.

But like other social work professionals, there’s plenty of room for administrators to increase their pay. The most highly-paid social and community service managers in California make between $99,950 and $129,330.

How Much Do Social Workers Make in California Compared to Other Professionals?

As of May 2022, the BLS reports that the average yearly salary for all workers in California is $73,220. In that context, some types of social workers exceed state averages by a comfortable margin.

When compared to other community and social service occupations, social work salaries look even better. On average, all social service professionals (including counselors, human service assistants, religious workers, and all types of social workers) make an average salary of $65,450 in California.

How Much Do Social Workers Make in California Compared to Other States?

California often pays its social workers more than most other states. In fact, social workers of all kinds only make a national average salary of $59,440. California is number one in the nation when it comes to salaries for healthcare social workers, second for mental health and substance abuse social workers, and seventh for child, family, and school social workers.

In terms of average salaries for all social service professionals, California is second in the nation. Nearby Washington state comes in fifth, Nevada comes in 11th, and Oregon comes in 13th.

Which Cities in California Pay Social Workers the Most?

In California, cost of living is a real concern. If you’re planning to become a social worker in California, the previously listed state averages might not seem like enough. However, social workers in many California metros earn much more than average.

For instance, the 10 top-paying metros for healthcare social workers are all in California. They include:

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Three California metros rank in the top 10 for child, family, and school social workers:

For social workers in other disciplines, California only has two entries in the top 10: Santa Rosa ($88,680) and Santa Maria-Santa Barbara ($82,530). So while cost of living may be higher in certain areas, it’s not uncommon for social work salaries to follow suit.

Visit our pages on California social work salaries and salaries by city for a more in-depth analysis.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for California, social workers, child, family, and school social workers, healthcare social workers, substance abuse and mental health social workers, social workers (all other), community and social service occupations, and social and community service managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2023.