From Bitter to Sweet

Posted by GVT Admin on Mar 27, 2024 10:45:00 AM

Young Government Social Workers

A recent study found that "Working for the government" leaves a bad taste in the mouth of eager young social work students. It is not clear how this unwarranted aftertaste got there, but few American citizens realize how much good their government does for society at large. The social changes being driven in today’s society are being powered by younger students wanting to make a change. Change comes about when individuals, working for a collective good, do whatever it takes to make a positive contribution — and moving for positive changes while working at a government job in a socially aware environment is one way to see those changes occur.

The Big “Federal” Picture

Social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are more than 700,000 social work jobs across the country, and overall employment of social workers is expected to grow 9% through 2031, faster than the average of all occupations. Most of these jobs are in government. The range of government settings in which social workers practice include:

  • Agencies serving children and families, such as foster care agencies.
  • Health care settings, including community-based clinics and hospitals.
  • Federal, state or local correctional facilities.
  • Settings that serve older adults, such as nursing homes.
  • Agencies serving military veterans and active-duty military personnel.

For social work positions (GS-0185), a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement, but a master’s degree in social work or a related field has become the standard for many positions.

A Closer Look

  • The Social Security Administration, by far, employs the largest number of social workers (more than 26,000). Social workers serve as program analysts, eligibility workers, community-outreach workers, and program administrators.
  • The over 9,000 social workers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs are assigned to the 57 VA facilities located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and six territories. VA social workers work as case managers, clinicians, and administrators in hospitals and community-based outreach programs throughout the United States.
  • Social workers in the Department of Defense include civilian social workers assigned to military components (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) as well as to other DOD facilities. In addition, there are over 500 active military personnel who are practicing social workers.
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) employs over 5,000 social workers as direct service workers in areas such as community-based offender reentry programs and federal parole and probation agencies. They also serve as policy analysts for DOJ.
  • Health and Human Services (HHS) is a vast department that has many service areas including community health, HIV/AIDS, mental health, and substance abuse. The work of HHS is conducted by the Office of the Secretary and 11 separate agencies. These agencies hire social workers as project officers, policy analysts, researchers, and administrators to do the following functions:
  • Case management
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Psychosocial assessments
  • Treatment and discharge planning
  • Substance use counseling and treatment.
  • Administration

The Scope

  • Social workers are also integrated into federal programs that address health care, behavioral health, criminal justice, social services, and child welfare issues.
  • Social workers who practice in a government agency are usually integrated into a broader continuum of services along with other disciplines such as physicians, nurses, and substance abuse counselors.
  • Additionally, social workers play a significant role in formulating policies and developing program standards and guidance for federal programs.

The Pay

In addition to scope and impact, the pay scale in government employment is competitive with the highest pay in private agencies. The average salary by practice area after 5 years:

  1. Administration - $85,000
  2. Aging - $60,200
  3. Child Welfare/Family - $65,800
  4. Mental Health - $70,800

Combined with the standard federal benefits package and job security, federal remuneration for social workers is, in fact, superior to most private agency positions.

Bitter to Sweet

The massive bureaucratic environment of government employment is the primary cause of the bad taste in the mouth of eager social work students. However, the study found that the leverage, scope, and support government agencies provided young social workers made their work more satisfying than they ever expected and turned that bitter taste to sweet.


Topics: Government, social workers

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