I have often wondered how unbearable life would be without the skill, commitment, tenacity and hard work of Social Workers, position embedded in so many essential activities of our society. They work with children and seniors, the sick and impaired, victims and the exploited, the unemployed and those in recovery, schoolchildren, the dying and the mourning; in hospitals, in schools, in impoverished areas, in remote villages and our metropolitan areas. They guide, counsel, case plan, broker services, hold hands, open doors, connect people, provide crisis assistance and make life impacting decisions. Social Workers are all-important and indispensable for a healthy civil society. I bet there is not one of us who has not personally, or had a family member or friend, benefited by the outstanding work of a Social Worker.
As significant and important a role social workers play in maintaining our quality of life, they are very much culturally veiled and obscured. Seriously, how many TV series or movies have you seen lauding the value of Social Work? I will go one step further: social work may be appreciated, but it is not valued!
To see another vantage point on how “devalued” Social Workers are in our culture, look at how they are compensated. However, before we do, let’s set the record straight. In most human services industries, except in some county or state government agencies, to be a “Social Worker” one must have a Masters degree. In many organizations like mine, you not only have to have a Masters degree, but be a licensed (or soon to be licensed) therapist. Becoming a Social Worker is a major investment in time and money. Not too dissimilar in terms of education and responsibilities as Registered Nurses. Yet, according to the 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics Wage Reports, the medium salary for a Registered Nurse is $12,000 more per year than that of a Social Worker; that means Social Workers are earning $1,000 less per month!
Let’s make a broader comparison based on the same data set. On average, Computer Programmers make over $20,000 per year more than a Masters level Social Worker. Certainly Computer Programmers provide an important and necessary skill, but they don’t contribute the same positive social impact and value to society provided by Social Workers. Throw in the ridiculous compensation for Wall Street bankers and other corporate pirates, and well…I won’t go there.
Let’s bring this closer to home. My organization, the Family Care Network, is a California licensed, nonprofit Foster Family Agency (FFA). We specialize in providing Therapeutic Foster Care and mental health services to the most challenging, high-needs children and youth impacted by trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences. Research clearly demonstrates that left untreated, these vulnerable victims of abuse and neglect will experience serious problems the remainder of their lives at a great public and personal expense.
Shockingly, the state of California only allocates about $15.13 per hour for FFA Social Work services, less than the 2013 median wage for short order cooks, gas station attendants, security guards, crossing guards, janitors, lab animal caretakers and landscape workers. Additionally, it is less than 50% of the median salary for county/state social workers who have less stringent qualification requirements. How’s that for an expression of devalued worth!
March is National Professional Social Worker Month. It is a time to celebrate the tremendous positive impact Social Workers make to our communities and quality of life each and every day. It is also a time to rethink what is really important and valuable, and to bring the profession of Social Work out of the shadows and into the light. We seem to applaud when someone, by hook or crook, makes millions of dollars; but “cry foul” when someone dares to want to make a decent living wage for hard work that truly benefits society.
Let’s join together in recognizing the incredible value of Social Workers; and work together to make sure these amazing people are more than sufficiently rewarded for their education, hard work and efforts!