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Where Are the Social Work Opportunities in Government?

Social work is extremely important in our society, but particularly so in government. Social workers operate throughout many levels of government, helping individuals and families deal with various life problems and issues.

If you are a social worker interested in working in the federal government, you should be aware of the most common areas they typically do their work, as well as what they do and how much they are paid. Some recommended resources are the National Association of Social Workers and the School Social Work Association of America.

The Federal Government

Social workers do extremely important work in the federal workforce. At any one time, there are more than 8,000 social-work-related positions within the U.S. government. Professionals who qualify for these positions must have a bachelor’s degree, but it is strongly advised that you have a master’s degree in social work as well. If you are looking for a social service assistant position, a bachelor’s degree in the field will usually suffice.

Some of the most common areas where social workers are needed in federal government include:

  • Social Security Administration (SSA) – Social workers in this agency have many roles, and the SSA currently employs more than 26,000 social-work-related professionals. They often serve as eligibility workers, program analysts, community outreach workers and program administrators.
  • Veterans Affairs Department (VA) – There are more than 9,000 social workers working in the VA, and they are assigned to 57 different facilities in all 50 states. Social workers in this agency work as clinicians, case managers and administrators at hospitals and community outreach programs.
  • Defense Department (DoD) – Social workers in the DoD often work for military branches and many types of related facilities. There are also 500 active military professionals who are social workers.
  • Justice Department (DOJ) – The DOJ currently employs 5,000 social workers in the areas of federal parole and probation and offender re-entry programs. Some social workers also are policy analysts for the agency.
  • Health and Human Services Department (HHS) – HHS is a huge department that has many subareas that utilize social workers, such as community health, HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse.

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What Social Workers Do in Government

Within these different agencies, social workers conduct tasks such as clinical practice, program management and administration. Your exact role will vary depending on which agency you work for. But most of your duties will include:

  • Case management
  • Therapy for groups and individuals
  • Psychological testing
  • Discharge and treatment planning
  • Counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse
  • Administrative tasks related to the above

Social workers also are deeply involved in federal programs that deal with behavioral health, health care, criminal justice, social services, social justice and child welfare. Social workers in the federal government can formulate policies and develop standards and guidance for important federal programs. Social workers in the government usually work closely with medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, and substance abuse professionals.

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Salary Potential in Federal, State and Local Government

A recent survey by the National Association for Social Workers determined the following regarding salaries for social workers in the federal government: For social workers who hold a master’s degree in social work, a typical salary is in the ballpark of $67,000. Additionally,

  • 10% of social workers earn less than $45,000.
  • 25% earn less than $56,000.
  • 75% earn less than $80,000.
  • 90% earn less than $94,000.

If you are interested in working for the local or state government, below is a comparison of the wages for social workers in state, local and federal governments. Interestingly, the median salary for federal and local government social workers is similar: $67,300 for federal vs. $68,900 for local. State governments pay the lowest median wage: $63,300.

  • Federal: 10% earn less than $55,800; 25% earn less than $60,000; median: $67,300; 75% earn less than $78,000; and 90% earn less than $90,700.
  • State: 10% earn less than $43,200; 25% earn less than $52,000; median: $63,000; 75% earn less than $79,200; and 90% earn less than $94,000.
  • Local: 10% earn less than $42.000; 25% earn less than $55,000; median: $68,900; 75% earn less than $81,000; and 90% earn less than $93,400.

Based on the data above, social work in federal government is rewarding, is in strong demand and pays relatively well. Be sure to closely consider the possibilities of working in government in your social work career, paying particular attention to the advantages and disadvantages of working for state, local and federal entities.

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Madonna Smith.

Greetings. I’m interested in doing contract social work over seas. Any recommendations on recruiters? Thank you.