Rewards of Social Work

A team member recently directed my attention to the social work profession’s ranking of number 4 on a list of lowest paying jobs. This was not earth shattering news, as the profession has been on this list for decades. Why would anyone pursue a degree in social work?

Not only do social service positions not pay well, the work can be extremely stressful. A Nov. 2009 headline depicted social work as one of its “stressful jobs,” reaping little reward, noting, “social workers step in when everyone else steps aside.” Because social service programs are underfunded, most social service agencies are understaffed and a few do the work of many. Given the low salaries and job related stress, why then do social workers choose to do what they do?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that employment prospects for social workers are favorable, particularly for those who specialize in the aging population or work in rural areas. At present, approximately 8 million American’s are unemployed. About 44 million still have no health insurance (down from 46.3 million in 2011) and 43.6 million live in poverty (the largest number in 51 years). The need for social services, already at historic proportions, will increase significantly.

However, it is highly unlikely that an individual would choose the social work profession primarily due to “favorable job prospects”. My experiences and personal research suggest that those who enter the profession are compassionate, benevolent individuals who prefer to pursue a charitable rather than profit-making purpose. The suggestion that social work reaps little reward is fallacious. While social work may be stressful and most often low paying, it is exceptionally rewarding to those whose primary motivation is the welfare of others. This is why individuals enter the profession and do what they do.