In many ways, San Diego lives up to its nickname of America’s Finest City. Its 70-mile coastline promises sunny serenity. Gaslamp Quarter pulses with life at all hours. And no matter where you go, you’ll find people from all over the world. But unfortunately, life in San Diego isn’t so fine for everyone.
In fact, economic experts and government officials alike say San Diego is in the middle of one of the worst housing crises in the country. While local officials have taken steps to rectify this situation, a number of other problems have either been caused by or gotten worse because of it. As the city and county’s population grows, so do these issues. More people will need help. More people will need social workers.
If you’re just beginning your social work education or are thinking about your next career move, San Diego is home to a number of opportunities for people just like you. To help you plan your career, here’s a guide to the city’s most pressing issues, some of its major employers, and what salaries different types of social workers in the area often make.
Social Work Jobs in San Diego
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 6,000 social workers are employed in the San Diego-Carlsbad area. Many of them work for the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA).
With more than 8,000 employees, the HHSA provides social services focused on a wide range of issues like behavioral and mental health, housing, substance abuse, public health, and more. The HHSA also employs IT technicians, policy experts, and financial administrators.
But to tackle some of San Diego’s most pressing issues, the HHSA often works with a long list of other providers. If you’re not sure where to begin your own job search, here are a few social work career paths to consider and a few potential employers (including various HHSA departments) to investigate.
Homeless Outreach Social Work
In 2023, the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness reported that about 6,500 people in San Diego are homeless. More than half are unsheltered. 46% are chronically homeless. If you’re interested in a homeless outreach social work job in San Diego, the HHSA is only one organization you might apply to.
For example, the City of San Diego’s Homeless Strategies and Solutions Department (HSSD) operates shelters, runs outreach programs, and even has programs dedicated to meeting the needs of specific segments of the homeless population like families and the LGBTQ+ community. They also coordinate with the San Diego Housing Commission to connect people with affordable housing.
Independent agencies like People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) help the city operate its outreach initiatives. Father Joe’s Village and the Alpha Project provide emergency housing and other life-saving services like employment training and healthcare assistance.
Family and Child Welfare Social Work
Each year, the HHSA receives around 40,000 reports of child abuse and neglect. But while the department needs child welfare social workers to investigate, intervene, and help children transition into new homes, the HHSA has recently formed a new department dedicated to providing more holistic family services: the Child and Family Well-Being (CFWB) Department.
The CFWB Department is a partnership between Child Welfare Services, the First 5 Commission (an organization that helps parents and caregivers promote healthy childhood development), and community-based service providers. Through this collaboration, the HHSA aims to focus on providing services that strengthen families and support parents. So whether they need financial aid, help finding childcare, or behavioral counseling, families can get them through one central organization.
Immigration Social Work
If you’re looking for immigration social work jobs in California, there’s perhaps no better place than San Diego to put your passion to good use. About a quarter of the city’s population is made up of immigrants and refugees. While immigrants from Mexico make up a large portion, the city is also home to a sizable Filipino community.
Fortunately, the University of Southern California reports that immigrants in San Diego often have a better quality of life than immigrants in other areas of the state. Many skilled workers find jobs that match their abilities, the majority of households have at least one English-speaking resident, and those that need help typically have access to social security aid. To maintain and improve intercultural equity, San Diego needs perhaps more immigration social workers than anywhere else.
For instance, the HHSA’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs coordinates with other local organizations to provide everything from English classes to legal advocacy to new immigrants. And the city government’s New San Diegan Resource Center lists dozens of local immigrant-focused social service providers. Additionally, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has a field office in San Diego. In this robust network, immigrants and the people committed to helping them can thrive.
Gerontology Social Work
Poverty, housing, and healthcare access issues often hit the aging population the hardest. Unfortunately, this seems to be especially true for San Diego.
Justice in Aging, a national organization dedicated to senior advocacy, reports that 29% of seniors in San Diego County don’t make enough money to cover basic needs. On top of that, 45% of the county’s homeless population is over 50 years old. And with the aging population in the county expected to grow to almost one million by 2030, these issues stand to get worse.
If you’re passionate about heading off this impending crisis, gerontology social work jobs in San Diego can be found at a wide range of employers. The HHSA’s Aging and Independence Services department provides advocacy, care coordination, adult protection, and more services to the area’s seniors. Other senior social work positions may be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs, community-based service providers, and charities.
Those interested in senior-oriented healthcare social work jobs in San Diego may want to investigate roles at area hospitals, in-home care providers, hospice communities and the county-run Edgemoor Distinct Part Skilled Nursing Facility.
Social Worker Salaries in San Diego
As of May 2022, the BLS reports that the average salary for social workers in San Diego ranges between $62,130 and $79,980 depending on specialty. While this is higher than national averages ($56,680 to $64,360), it’s lower than state averages ($69,530 to $88,380).
However, it’s important to remember that these averages don’t reflect a social worker’s full salary potential. Depending on experience, education, and employer, social workers might make more or less. Particular types of social work jobs in San Diego may pay more than others, as well.
For a clearer picture of social worker salaries in San Diego, refer to the following table of BLS-reported salary data. The 10% column represents the lowest-earning social work professionals in the San Diego-Carlsbad area. The 90% column represents the highest-earning workers, many of whom have Master’s degrees in Social Work (MSW) and state-issued Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) credentials.
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 San Diego-Carlsbad, 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.