MSW Careers & Salaries

Written by Sam Medley

practice group session in school

California’s social service network is certainly impressive. Each of the state’s 58 counties have their own government social work agencies. Each agency is made up of departments focused on everything from child welfare to immigration assistance. Countless independent agencies help these government bureaus fill in the gaps. No matter your passion, there’s likely an organization in California that needs your talents and drive for social justice.

While that might be encouraging, it can also be intimidating. If California already has over 85,000 social workers, do they really need more?

Fortunately, California’s need for social workers is expected to increase dramatically. O*NET, a career readiness website sponsored by the US Department of Labor, predicts that every year through 2030, there will be almost 5,000 job openings for child, family, and school social workers alone. Projections for other types of social service professionals are equally optimistic.

But what will your career look like? How do you transition from entry-level work to more advanced Masters of Social Work jobs? And what kind of salary might you make at each phase of your career?

The First Steps of Your Career: Bachelor of Social Work Jobs

To get an entry-level social work job in California, you’ll likely need a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or another closely related field. But being an entry-level worker doesn’t mean you’ll be doing tedious grunt work. These types of roles are often designed to give you the experience you need to take on Masters of Social Work jobs later in your career.

As an entry-level social worker, you’ll help your more experienced colleagues with:

These broad duties vary between industries and specialties. For example, if you’re a new healthcare social worker, you might help clients understand their insurance and financial aid options for different procedures. But if you’re in gerontology social work, you might help your supervisors develop fun, engaging social events everyone in your community can enjoy.

organizing food donations

Some roles associated with entry-level social work include:

These aren’t the only positions available to early-career social workers. Depending on the industry you’re entering, you may also want to consider roles like patient services specialist or community outreach specialist.

Taking the Next Step: Masters of Social Work Jobs

Whether you plan on earning a BSW and working for a while or want to head straight into an MSW program after earning your bachelor’s, having an MSW can open your career options up to a number of impactful frontline and administrative positions.

Why Should I Get an MSW in California?

While California social worker licensing laws don’t require social workers to have a Masters of Social Work (MSW) to take on most advanced positions, many employers do. This is because Master’s program graduates have studied advanced social work techniques, practiced them over the course of hundreds of supervised fieldwork hours, and have likely specialized in a specific area of social work. They’re ready to not just meet any of their clients’ needs, but help other social workers do the same.

Frontline Masters of Social Work Jobs

In many fields, the only way to advance your career is by going into administration or management. However, not everyone’s talents are suited for administration nor does everyone feel fulfilled in such roles. But in social work, there’s plenty of room for advancement for people who want to stay on the frontlines of California’s fight for social equity.

Some frontline Masters of Social Work jobs you may want to explore include:

These are only a few examples, but frontline Masters of Social Work jobs can be found in every specialty and in every kind of social service organization.

Policymaking, Administrative, and Other Support-oriented Masters of Social Work Jobs

Talented administrators and support personnel are vital to getting people the help they need. They strategically plan services, manage budgets, and advocate for laws and policies that ensure no one falls through the cracks. Without them, California’s massive social service network would come to a grinding halt.

reviewing paperwork

Some of the most important social service management jobs include:

Professionals who enter these administrative Masters of Social Work jobs are often former direct service professionals who worked in and earned an MSW in a specific field like gerontology, child welfare, or healthcare social work. Others earn their MSWs in broader areas like social service management, community development and social systems, macro social work, or social policy. When it’s time for your own job hunt, remember that these titles vary between different types of agencies.

Another Vital MSW Career Option: Clinical Masters of Social Work Jobs

Clinical social workers have some of the most versatile abilities in the entire field. After undergoing rigorous education and training, they have the power to diagnose mental health disorders and provide evidence-based treatment for them. In fact, according to the California Board of Behavioral Science, they’re the only type of social worker in California that need a state-issued license to practice. Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) can enable you to take on a number of Masters of Social Work jobs other professionals can’t.

lcsw taking notes

After becoming an LCSW, you can become a:

While LCSWs can hold these positions in just about any organization, they can also do something even more unique: operate their own social service practices. LCSWs who follow this route often open community clinics and consulting services that work with individuals, businesses, and other social service organizations.

Social Worker Salaries in California

California isn’t just a national leader in social worker employment. It’s also one of the highest-paying states for social service professionals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) May 2022 employment survey, the national average salary for all community and social service occupations is $55,760. In California, it’s $65,450, second only to the District of Columbia. Washington is the only state in the region that comes close with an average salary of $61,000. California beats Nevada and Oregon by about $8,000 each.

salary and payroll system

However, averages don’t always paint an accurate picture of a person’s salary potential. In the following sections, you’ll find tables and insights that break these numbers down by city, specialty, and experience.

Average Social Service Salaries in California by Metropolitan Area

Nine of the BLS’s top 10 highest-paying cities for community and social service occupations are in California. In some cities, average wages for these professionals exceed the state average by $15,000 or more.



Annual Average Salary for Community and Social Service Occupations

United States




San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA


San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA


Napa, CA


Hanford-Corcoran, CA


Vallejo-Fairfield, CA


Stockton-Lodi, CA


Madera, CA


Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA


Salinas, CA



Table data taken from 2022 BLS reports for community and social service occupations.

Social Worker Salaries in California By Specialty

The BLS’s community and social service category is made up of several smaller categories. Including four types of social workers:

  1. Child, family, and school social workers
  2. Substance abuse and mental health social workers
  3. Healthcare social workers
  4. Social workers, all other

In terms of average salary, California leads the nation for healthcare social workers ($88,380) and comes in second for mental health and substance abuse social workers ($81,720). While the state doesn’t make the top five for child, family, and school social workers ($66,340) or all other social workers ($69,530), it beats the national average for both categories by about $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.

Social Worker Salaries in California By Experience and Education

Within each of these four categories are social workers at every stage of their careers. Unfortunately, the BLS doesn’t report salary data by level of degree or experience, but they do report what the highest- and lowest-earning professionals in each specialty make. General trends indicate that LCSWs and people in Masters of Social work jobs can make more than their entry-level colleagues by a considerable amount.


Social Work Specialty

10% (Lowest Earning)


50% (Median)


90% (Highest Earning)

Child, Family, and School Social Workers






Healthcare Social Workers






Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers






Social Workers (All Other)






Table data taken from 2022 BLS reports for California.

Salaries For Other Social Service Professionals in California

Throughout your career, you might not always work under the title of social worker. Many of the roles you may take on have different salary expectations than social workers. This is especially true for support and administrative roles that don’t involve providing services directly.

While not comprehensive, the following table provides salary ranges for many of these roles in California. The lower-paying roles tend to be entry-level or mid-career roles while the higher-paying ones are often Masters of Social Work jobs. However, some specialties (like marriage and family therapist and other direct service roles) are entire career paths in and of themselves.


Job Title

10% (Lowest Earning)


50% (Median)


90% (Highest Earning)

Social and Community Service Managers






Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors






Marriage and Family Therapists






Rehabilitation Counselors






Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors






Counselors (All Other)






Health Education Specialists






Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists






Social and Human Service Assistants






Community Health Workers






Community and Social Service Specialists (All Other)






Table data taken from 2022 BLS reports for community and social service occupations.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for child, family, and school social workers, healthcare social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, social workers (all other), and other social and community service occupations are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2023.