Social Work Profession Faces Impending Labor-Force Shortages, Study Finds

An impending shortage of social workers threatens future services for all Americans, especially children and older adults, a new report from the National Association of Social Workers finds.

Sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, and the John A. Hartford, Annie E. Casey, and Robert Wood Johnson foundations, the report, Assuring the Sufficiency of a Frontline Workforce: A National Study of Licensed Social Workers, finds that the number of new social workers providing services to older adults is decreasing at a time when the number of older adults who need social-work services is projected to increase. Compounding the challenge, the supply of licensed social workers is insufficient to meet the needs of organizations serving children and families.

According to the report, social workers see clients with a broad range of diagnoses, especially chronic medical conditions, psychosocial stressors, acute medical conditions, co-occurring disorders, and physical disabilities. They also are the largest providers of mental health services in the country. However, a steady increase in caseloads, the growing severity of clients' problems, and shrinking resources make meeting clients' needs more difficult than ever. And because more than half of healthcare social workers work in hospitals in metropolitan areas, providing comprehensive services to people living in rural areas is an additional challenge.

"Social workers are one of the largest and most diverse health professions in the United States," said NASW executive director Elizabeth Clark. "They have the education and training to look at how all factors in a person's life — family, work, health and mental health — work together. This study highlights the need to find new and innovative ways for the social work profession to retain the current workforce and recruit new social workers to accommodate the impending demand."

To read or download the complete report, visit: (83 pages, PDF).

"Landmark Study Warns of Impending Labor Force Shortages For Social Work Profession." National Association of Social Workers Press Release 03/08/2006.