Let’s talk money.

Pay Negotiation


Social workers are underpaid. I mean really underpaid. In my job search I came across a social work position working  as an alcohol and drug abuse Prevention Specialist in South Austin public schools that paid a less than mind blowing salary of….drum roll please….grab your kleenex….hold your partners hand…..$29,000 annually.

WHHAAAAAATTTT??? Why is it that the greatest helping professions, excluding doctors and ethical lawyers, get paid less than scraps? How is this fair?

There is a saying in the social work field that “Nobody goes into social work for the money” but I am here to tell you that we don’t pursue our masters,additional licensure and continuing education to get paid a single persons restaurant waged salary the rest of our lives either. We too have families and needs to be financially stable. We are impacting the lives of people you love, work with, study with and trust as baby sitters.

We do understand that the world of non-profits exists on federal, state and private funding. Because of the scarcity of funding from these sectors social workers are not inclined to ask about salary stipulations and there is a lack of conversations about salary raises in this profession. We are not intentionally taught to be silent about this, however we are also not educated or encouraged to learn the art of salary negotiation.

One potential reasoning I have for this is social workers value additional funding for services for our clients over our increase salary rates.  We see our client’s devastation and need as a higher priority than our own financial stability, but I am here to challenge this thought.

Burn out is of the highest nature in this profession. Could it be due to the fact that we are underpaid and overworked? Perhaps not solely, but at least partially. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers earned on average an annual wage of $42,480 in May 2010.  That is a lower annual salary of human resource specialists, teachers and guidance counselors. Although initially frustrating I offer another perspective. Social work employment is growing, which equates to job stability in the profession in healthcare, mental health, substance abuse, and school settings.

However, do not get fret and turn away from social work because of the seemingly lack of monetary kick back. There are options for social workers to make a decent living while still upholding the values of community and generosity.

1. Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice and take mostly private pay patients. This will allow you flexibility to offer a few sliding scale and low-cost sessions.

2. Learn how to negotiate salary offers.

3. Become employed as a Director or Supervisor in for profit organizations and companies.

4. Work in healthcare providing direct service and clinical work to patients.

5. Get a dual degree in law and work in social justice, legislature, family law and human rights law.

The more information we have the better equipped we are to advocate and negotiate our salaries in for profits and not for profit agencies. The Social Work Podcast gives us some great insight about how to negotiate compensations in the social work field. We value our clients and patients; let’s all take a moment to value ourselves and take time to work out what we are worth and then do the research to find out the best way to verbalize this. We owe it to ourselves and our profession. We too can become more financially stable and have a better outlook for our financial futures.




9 thoughts on “Let’s talk money.

  1. Jess, while I’m not a social worker I always love reading your weekly posts. They are so inspirational and much of what you say, I believe, applies to many other professions and many other people struggling with their profession. Thank you so much for sharing. Love love this space! X

    • Thanks Alana! I think you are right. So many of the challenges social workers struggle with are not isolated to this profession but instead cover many arenas. I am glad you are enjoying reading this and I too love your blog! It is one of my self care techniques and a great referral source for many crafty and newly found veg inspired friends!

  2. Jess, while I’m not a social worker I always love reading your weekly posts. They are so inspirational and much of what you say, I believe, applies to many other professions and many other people struggling with their profession. Thank you so much for sharing. Love love this space! X

  3. Great post. Everyone should negotiate their salary, even if they feel they have little leverage. You can even use the “negotiate by not negotiating” technique taught by Dr. Lee Miller. For example: “I’m really excited about the position and I’m going to accept it. I’m looking forward to working with you at _______. Although I have other job offers that pay more, this is where I want to work. Would it be possible, however to consider increasing the starting salary? I think it is low, and I know I will have a tough time living on that salary in ____. I want you to understand hat if you can’t do anything about the salary, I still want the job. However, I would appreciate anything you could do for me.”

    Contact at me http://www.salarynegotiators.com for help.

    • Thanks Joseph! This is really great information. I really appreciate this way of communicating one’s commitment to the job and to self as well. We have to commit to encouraging ourselves to ask for what we want, personally and professionaly. The “negotiate by not negotiating” technique is a respectful way to inform someone of your loyalty and self worth. It leaves them wanting to help you. Thanks so much!

  4. Hi Jess,

    I’ve just found this blog and find it quite informative, motivating and inspirational. I’ve found in my negotiating that sometimes being a little beligerent can help at times. Its the tack I’ve used and have had some success.


    Morpheus Clay

    • Hi Morpheus, thanks for the comments. I am glad you have found some of the information to reach you. I am curious what you mean by “being a little beligerent can help at times.” Perhaps our definitions of this word are a little different. I had my first negotiation just recently and found being enthustiastic, commited and honest was the best approach. I look forward to hearing from you about this tactic.

      • Jessica,

        I’m sure my workplace experiences are somewhat different to yours but I’d say the general premise about pay shares some commonality.

        I always remember that they need the worker, that is why they are hiring in the first place. Business being business it is usual for the first offer to be lower than they may be able to pay.

        To flush out a better offer I use assertive language and at times a belligerent tone of voice.

        I’ll say things such as “your kidding” or “your dreaming mate” or even at times I’ve told them to stick that pay rate in some darkened place.

        I’ve used these methods when I worked on oil rigs in south east Asia, the gold fields of the northern Transvaal in South Africa, as a ringer on a remote cattle station in Australia’s Northern Territory and even when I was teaching children to swim in London’s west end.

        There are many ways to skin a cat and I keep belligerence in my bag of tricks.


        Morpheus Clay

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