In California, employment for many types of social workers is expected to grow by around 10% through 2030 which equates to about 1,800 new job openings every year. But in Los Angeles, the need for skilled social workers seems to be increasing at a much more rapid pace — one that’s both encouraging for future professionals and alarming for the city itself.
For instance, the LA County Department of Public Social Services reports that it served more than 4.3 million people in July 2023. So out of the 9.7 million people reportedly living in Los Angeles County, many need help with mental health, poverty, housing, substance abuse, physical abuse, healthcare access and more. If you’re thinking about a career in social work, it’s hard to imagine a place more in need of your talents than LA.
But before you begin your own journey of service, here’s what you need to know about the different types of social work jobs in Los Angeles, the problems the city faces, and the often higher-than-average salaries LA social workers can earn.
Types of Social Work Jobs in Los Angeles
The diversity of social work jobs in Los Angeles mirrors the diversity of the city itself. With its impressively massive community of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private service providers, Los Angeles may very well be the place to broaden your own professional and personal horizons.
School Social Workers
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has over 435,000 students and employs over 34,000 people, making it one of the largest districts in the nation. Due to its size, the district is home to some unique challenges in school social work.
Within the LAUSD:
School social workers help students and families overcome these barriers and more by collaborating with educators, parents, and administrators. Their main duties include providing counseling and crisis intervention, training educators, and connecting families with community resources that help students get the most out of their education. However, school counselors in Los Angeles can also work for the city’s numerous private schools, as well.
Healthcare Social Workers
According to the California Health Care Foundation, Los Angeles is home to more than 80 acute care hospitals and countless other specialty facilities that serve more than 10 million people. Each of those individuals, whether they’re cancer survivors, new parents, or the victims of traumatic accidents, have specific needs. Healthcare social work jobs in Los Angeles focus on meeting those needs at every level.
Their duties often include helping patients and their families cope with illness, access medical and financial resources, and make informed decisions about treatment options. Many healthcare social workers in Los Angeles work for hospitals, but others find employment with home healthcare services, outpatient clinics, and community-based healthcare organizations.
Child Welfare Social Workers
In July 2023, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services received almost 8,000 reports of suspected child abuse, neglect, and exploitation. That same month, over 14,000 children were reported to be in out-of-home placement locations like group homes and county shelters. This means that child welfare social workers in Los Angeles must be experts in crisis intervention, case management, and counseling.
However, the Department also reported that they were working on over 5,500 family reunification cases in July 2023. This process involves counseling families, connecting them with needed resources, and performing routine home assessments. So while child welfare roles are some of the most challenging social work jobs in Los Angeles, they can also be some of the most rewarding.
Quick Fact: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Los Angeles Metropolitan area employs over 22,000 child, family, and school social workers — more than any other metro in the nation.
Mental Health Social Workers
The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) serves almost 240,000 clients of all races, ages, ethnicities, and identities. According to their reports, the majority suffer from depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and stress-related disorders like PTSD. Many battle substance abuse disorders, as well.
To combat these complex issues, mental health social workers in Los Angeles carry out an impressively wide range of duties like:
But while many of LA’s mental health social workers work for the LACDMH, others work for or closely with the court system, boarding homes, schools, residential treatment facilities, and community clinics.
Interested in becoming an expert in mental health social work? Learn more about becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in California.
Substance Abuse Social Workers
Addressing the challenges of addiction in a sprawling city like Los Angeles requires a specialized approach, and that’s where substance abuse social workers come in. These professionals offer individual and group counseling to individuals struggling with substance abuse disorders. By providing a nonjudgmental space for recovery, they help clients navigate the path to sobriety and reintegrate into their communities. Substance abuse social workers contribute to reducing the negative impact of addiction on individuals, families, and society as a whole.
Homeless and Outreach Social Workers
While Skid Row is emblematic of Los Angeles’ massive housing and income inequality crises, more than 75,000 people across the county are homeless. That’s a worrying 9% rise from previous years.
Homeless and outreach social workers operate on the front lines of this complex issue. Their roles involve a combination of direct community outreach, assessment, advocacy, and service coordination. They often work collaboratively with other agencies, shelters, and community organizations to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness receive the support they require. But outside of these direct response roles, outreach social workers can help local policymakers draft laws that protect the current homeless population and those teetering on the edge of poverty.
Immigration Social Workers
The US Census Bureau estimates that about 34% of the Los Angeles population was born outside of the US. Due to discrimination and language and cultural barriers, many struggle to find jobs, education, housing, and a sense of belonging.
Immigration social workers often work for nonprofit organizations, legal firms specializing in immigration, government agencies, and community centers. While the needs of each person varies, they typically help immigrants and their families advocate for their own rights, connect them with resources, and help them preserve their identities while integrating in a new community.
Geriatric Social Workers
The Graying of America is hitting Los Angeles hard. According to a bulletin from the city government, about 764,000 Los Angeles residents are seniors. By 2030, they expect this number to increase to over 1 million.
Geriatric social workers specialize in helping seniors overcome the unique challenges of aging. This often includes connecting them with:
But on top of these duties, geriatric social workers also advocate for seniors in cases of neglect, abuse, and exploitation. They can be found working for state agencies like the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging, hospitals, and a vast number of private senior service agencies.
Other Types of Social Work Jobs in Los Angeles
After gaining experience in any of these fields, many social workers move on to more administrative leadership roles within their agencies. These professionals typically craft policies, coordinate community programs, and train new social workers.
However, Los Angeles is home to even more types of social workers. The increasingly diverse population seems to demand a need for social and racial justice social workers. The city’s coastal location indicates that environmental and disaster relief social workers could become an important part of the community. And in such a dense area, criminal justice and corrections social workers are key to helping victims become whole and offenders reform.
Social Worker Salaries in Los Angeles
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average annual salary for the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area is $69,540 as of May 2022. Fortunately, salary ranges for social work jobs in Los Angeles often fall around or exceed this number. However, it’s important to note that salary potential varies widely between employers and specialties and often depends on an individual’s experience and education level.
The following table lists salary ranges for the four different types of social workers the BLS tracks data for. The 10% column represents the lowest 10% of earners in that specialty. The 50% column represents the median meaning half of the social workers in that category make more than that number and half make less. The 90% column represents the highest-earning 10%. Many of the people in the highest-earning category have a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) and are experienced Licensed Clinical Social Workers.
Social Work Specialty
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 the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California, metropolitan area.
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, and social workers (all other) are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2023.