From a certain perspective, San Jose is a beautiful place and home to endless opportunities. In the 1980s, Mayor Tom McEnery dubbed the city the Capital of Silicon Valley, a moniker that stuck as companies like Apple and Google set up shop in the area. As the world developed an unquenchable thirst for smaller, faster technology, San Jose became one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
But not everyone in San Jose lives in such a privileged world. In fact, very few do.
According to the Silicon Valley Pain Index, an aptly-titled annual report published by the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University, .001% of households control $260 billion of Silicon Valley’s wealth. The lowest-earning 50% of households in the area only control about a sixth of that amount.
This profound wealth gap threatens to swallow the city whole. San Jose and Santa Clara County’s people need social workers now more than ever. They need frontline professionals who can connect them to and provide services that keep them afloat. They need advocates who can enact powerful, long-term policies that will protect their rights. If joining that cause appeals to you, here’s what you need to know about social work job opportunities in San Jose and what your earning potential might be.
Social Work Jobs in San Jose
One of the major employers of San Jose’s approximately 3,400 social workers is the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency. Through their various departments, they employ case managers, child welfare social workers, gerontology social workers, social workers who specialize in working with veterans, housing specialists, and many other types of professionals. However, San Jose is home to a range of other city, county, non-profit, and community-based social service providers.
Between this diverse social service network and the many problems that arise from the city’s income disparity issues, social workers in San Jose have a few unique career options available to them. Here are a few of those paths, some of the challenges you might face, and some organizations you might work for.
Poverty, Housing, and Homeless Outreach Social Work
In May 2022, the Santa Clara County government reported that residents need to make at least $54 an hour to afford rent. That same month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said the average hourly wage in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro was $54.07. While that may sound encouraging, statistics about homelessness in the region indicate that the tremendous income gap may be distorting that figure.
The county government’s 2022 report also says that San Jose’s homeless population grew to about 6,700 in 2022 — an increase of 11% from the previous year. To make matters worse, the report also acknowledges that there are only 30 affordable housing units for every 100 impoverished families and individuals. Social workers can help people already on the streets and those who are dangerously close to joining them.
Homeless outreach social workers often provide mental health, substance abuse, housing, and employment counseling and other interventions that address a person’s immediate needs. The county’s Social Services Agency employs these types of professionals, but other housing and homeless social work jobs in San Jose can be found with the city government’s Homelessness Response Team, community-based agencies like CityTeam and PATH, and the Santa Clara Office of Supportive Housing.
Child Welfare and Family Social Work
Families make up a large portion of San Jose’s unhoused population. According to the Silicon Valley Pain Index, 600 families become homeless in the city every year. Given other statistics the Index highlights about life in San Jose, this isn’t terribly surprising.
28% of households in San Jose don’t bring in enough income to pay for basic needs. Working parents of young children have more of a financial burden — childcare for preschool-aged children in the city costs, on average, about $22,000. Childcare is expensive across the country, but in a city where half of renters dedicate more than 30% of their income to housing, there’s even less wiggle room in the family budget.
If you’re looking for a child and family social work job in San Jose, you may want to explore roles with the Santa Clara county’s Department of Family and Children’s Services. Along with counseling families and intervening in cases of abuse and neglect, you can help families apply for programs like CalWORKS, a state-sponsored initiative that provides financial assistance, childcare, and healthcare coverage. However, this is only one way to get into family services in San Jose.
You may also want to investigate positions with organizations like Second Harvest (a food pantry that provides groceries for over 450,000 families every month), the Dependency Advocacy Center (an advocacy organization for families navigating the child welfare system), and other community-based and non-profit organizations. Roles within these agencies aren’t limited to child welfare. Families need help accessing physical and mental healthcare, affordable housing, and employment opportunities.
Social Justice Social Work
Even though San Jose’s social issues affect a wide range of people, they disproportionately affect some of the area’s most vulnerable populations.
For example, the Silicon Valley Pain Index reports that:
While you can certainly find social justice-focused social work jobs in San Jose through the Social Services Agency of Santa Clara County, but other potential employers might be found through the Cross Agency Service Team (CAST). This partnership of government agencies and independent community-based social service providers allows people to seek relevant, potentially life-saving resources through organizations that understand their issues and advocate for their rights. Not every service provider in San Jose is a CAST member, but it may serve as a good starting point in your social work job hunt.
Thinking Long-term: Advocacy and Research Opportunities for Social Workers in San Jose
While today’s San Jose residents deserve help, the next generation deserves a brighter future. Accomplishing that goal will require research, reform, and advocacy. If you’re passionate about systemic change, there are a number of ways to answer that call in and around San Jose.
To carry out and improve its many social services, the Santa Clara County government often employs demographers and researchers to canvas neighborhoods, conduct surveys, and pore over mountains of data about ongoing initiatives. This information plays a pivotal role in directing public policy and maintaining transparency within the community.
If you’re interested in public health, the county government, hospitals, and private healthcare providers alike employ healthcare social workers and policy specialists to carry out a wide range of duties. These professionals analyze large-scale health trends, connect people to relevant programs, and run health promotion campaigns in targeted communities. Some even perform audits of healthcare facilities to ensure patients of all kinds get the treatment they deserve.
But aside from those two specific examples, companies and government agencies of all kinds need people with eyes for inclusion and equity to guide hiring, compensation, and human resource policies. These types of roles aren’t necessarily social work jobs, but they can make success and happiness more attainable to more people in San Jose, Silicon Valley, and beyond.
Social Worker Salaries in San Jose
Despite the city’s far-reaching income disparity issues, social work jobs in San Jose often pay better than anywhere else.
According to the BLS, the average salary for a social worker in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro is between $79,680 and $109,530 depending on specialty. As of May 2022, the metro ranks first in the nation in terms of average salaries for child, family, and school social workers ($80,390) and healthcare social workers ($109,530). It ranks third for mental health and school social workers ($93,480). For reference, the national average salary for all types of social workers is only between $56,680 and $64,360.
However, social worker salaries vary between employers and depend heavily on a person’s experience and education. To better understand your own salary potential, use the following table of BLS-reported income data as a guide. The 10% column represents the lowest-earning 10% of social workers for each specialty. The 90% column represents the highest-earning 10%. Many of the people in this category have a Master’s in Social Work (MSW), years of experience, and a state-issued clinical social work license.
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 Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, 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.