About 4 out of 10 jobs are in professional and service occupations. Job opportunities in social assistance should be numerous through the year 2016 because of job turnover and rapid employment growth. Some of the fastest growing occupations in the Nation, such as home health aides, personal and home care aides and social and human service assistants, are concentrated in social assistance. Average earnings are low because of the large number of part-time and low-paying service jobs.
Nature of the Industry
At times, people need help to live a full and productive life. They may need assistance finding a job or appropriate child care, learning skills to find employment, locating safe and adequate housing, and getting nutritious food for their family. The social assistance industry provides help to individuals and families to aid them in becoming healthy and productive members of society.
Goods and services. Social assistance establishments provide a wide array of services that include helping the homeless, counseling troubled and emotionally disturbed individuals, training the unemployed or underemployed, and helping the needy to obtain financial assistance. In general, organizations in this industry work to improve the lives of the individuals and families they serve and to enrich their communities. The specific services provided vary greatly depending on the population the establishment is trying to serve and its goals or mission.
Social assistance consists of four segments—individual and family services; community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services; vocational rehabilitation services; and child day care services. (The child day care services segment, including day care and preschool care centers, is covered separately in the Career Guide.)
Establishments in the individual and family services sector work to provide the skills and resources necessary for individuals to be more self-sufficient and for families to live in a stable and safe environment. Many of the services in this sector are often aimed at a particular population, such as children, the elderly, or those with mental or physical disabilities. Services targeted at children can vary greatly based on the goal of the establishment providing the assistance. Some programs provide youth services such as after-school programs or youth centers. These programs are generally aimed at giving children a safe, supportive environment to spend their time after school or on weekends. There are often planned activities such as field trips, tutors to assist with homework, and games and sports equipment. Foster care and adoption agencies also provide services that are directly aimed at assisting children. These organizations are responsible for locating safe families and environments for children who are in the foster care system. Other services aimed at children include drug prevention and mentoring programs.
Services provided to the elderly include senior centers, which hold activities geared towards senior citizens and are often used as a place for seniors to gather to talk or play games. Some services, like adult day care, home care services, and support groups, are aimed at assisting both the elderly and disabled population. This sector of the industry also provides various support services to individuals and families. These often include programs for people addicted to drugs or alcohol, parenting support groups, and rape or abuse crisis centers.
Community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services establishments provide various types of assistance to members of the community. It consists of three subsectors: Community food services, community housing services, and emergency and other relief services.
Establishments in the community food services subsector collect, prepare, and deliver food for the needy. They may prepare and deliver meals to persons who by reason of age, disability, or illness are unable to prepare meals for themselves. They may also collect and distribute salvageable or donated food, or prepare and provide meals at fixed or mobile locations, and distribute clothing and blankets. Food banks, meal delivery programs, and soup kitchens are included in this industry.
Establishments in the community housing services sector provide short-term emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse. These establishments may operate their own shelter or may provide subsidized housing using existing homes. Also included in this sector are establishments that provide transitional housing for low-income individuals and families as well as temporary residential shelter for the homeless, runaway youths, and patients and families caught in medical crises. Community housing establishments also perform volunteer construction or repair of homes of the elderly or disabled, or of low-cost housing—sometimes in partnership with the future homeowner, who may assist in construction or repair work.
Establishments in the emergency and other relief services sector provide assistance to those that have been directly affected by a disaster. These establishments may set up emergency shelters for those who have been evacuated from their homes. They may also provide medical assistance to those who have been injured by the disaster. In the aftermath, they may supply food and clothing, assist with resettlement, and provide counseling to victims of domestic or international disasters or conflicts.
Vocational rehabilitation services establishments provide vocational rehabilitation or life skills services. They generally work with people who are disabled, either from birth or as a result of an illness or injury. They work to teach the client the skills necessary to live independently and find employment. Often, their services include assessing the abilities of their clients to determine what occupations they should pursue. They may also provide job counseling and assist in locating training and educational programs.
Thousands of other establishments, mainly in State and local government, provide additional social assistance. (For information about government social assistance, see the sections of the Career Guide on Federal Government, and State and local government, excluding education and hospitals.)
Industry organization. About 77,000 establishments in the private sector provided social assistance in 2006. Of that, 59,000 establishments were in individual and family services, about 9,000 in community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services, and 9,000 in vocational rehabilitation service organizations. Establishments in this industry tend to be smaller than the average for all establishments. In 2006, half of social assistance establishments employed fewer than 5 workers; however, larger establishments accounted for most jobs (chart 1).
Hours. Some social assistance establishments operate around the clock, and evening, weekend, and holiday work is common. Some establishments may be understaffed, resulting in large caseloads for each worker. Jobs in voluntary, nonprofit agencies often are part time.
Work environment. Some workers spend a substantial amount of time traveling within the local area. For example, home health and personal care aides routinely visit clients in their homes; social workers and social and human service assistants also may make home visits.
Social assistance provided 1.5 million nongovernment wage and salary jobs in 2006. About 65 percent were in individual and family services (table 1).
Jobs in social assistance are concentrated in large States with heavily populated urban areas, such as New York and California.
Occupations in the Industry
Careers in social assistance appeal to people with a strong desire to make life better and easier for others. Workers in this industry are usually good communicators and enjoy interacting with people. Many jobs in this industry are professional positions that require at least a bachelor’s degree, while other occupations require little education beyond a high school diploma.
Professional and related occupations. More than 35 of all nongovernment social assistance jobs were in professional and related occupations in 2006 (table 2). Some of these workers may have direct interaction with clients while others have limited interaction with the population they serve. These workers may spend their time on tasks like planning programs or events, organizing classes or workshops, grant writing, or creating educational material to be used by clients. Professional and related occupations within this industry includes: social workers, counselors, health educators, teachers-adult literacy and remedial education, and social and human service assistants.
Social workers help clients function within the limitations of their environment, improve their relationships, and solve personal and family problems. Often, this includes counseling and assessing the needs of clients, referring them to the appropriate sources of help, and monitoring their progress. Many social workers specialize in a particular field. Child, family and school social workers aim to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families. This may involve work with single parents, parents seeking to adopt a child, or children in foster care. Medical and public health social workers provide support to individuals or families coping with illness or diseases; at times, this may include both terminal and chronic illnesses. They may help arrange for additional services to assist in caring for patients, including services such as meals-on-wheels or other home care services. Mental health and substance abuse social workers evaluate and treat individuals with mental health and substance abuse problems. They may provide treatment through group or individual therapy or work on community outreach and crisis intervention.
Counselors help people evaluate their interests and abilities, and advise and assist them with personal and social problems. Counselors generally specialize so their job duties to vary greatly based on the population they serve. Educational, vocational, and school counselors in this industry generally work in what is more commonly known as career counseling. They assist clients in determining what field of work they should enter and help them with job-seeking activities, like locating job openings for which they might apply or coaching them on proper interview conduct. Rehabilitation counselors assist people in living with the social, personal and vocational effects of a disability. In some cases, they assist people who are adjusting to a disability caused by injury or illness, but they also counsel those who have had disabilities from birth. These counselors evaluate the abilities and limitations of the individual and arrange for vocational training, medical care and job placement. Mental health counselors work with individuals and families to treat mental and emotional disorders. This is, often, done through individual or group therapy. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with individual who are addicted to substances, such alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, or a behavior, like gambling or an eating disorder. They often use techniques such as group and individual therapy and, in some settings, they may be involved in crisis intervention and community outreach. Marriage and family therapists aim to improve an individual’s or family’s mental and emotional health through therapeutic techniques that focus on the family system. This is frequently done through individual, family or group therapy.
Health educators encourage healthy lifestyles and wellness by educating individuals and communities about behaviors that promote health and prevent illness and diseases. They use many different mediums and methods to get their message to their target audience. They often teach classes or entire courses, plan events or programs on health related topics, create pamphlets and other written materials, and organize screenings for illnesses. In the social assistance industry, they may often be responsible for writing applications for grants.
Adult literacy and remedial education teachers instruct adults and out-of-school youth in reading, writing, speaking English, and basic math skills. These workers may work with adults who are in need of basic education or who are pursuing their General Educational Development (GED) certificate. They may also work with adults and children who are learning English as a second language.
Social and human service assistants work in a variety of social and human service delivery settings. However, in general, they provide services, both directly and indirectly, to ensure that individuals in their care can function to the best of their ability. Job titles and duties of these workers vary, but they include human service worker, case management aide, social work assistant, mental health aide, child abuse worker, community outreach worker, and gerontology aide.
Service occupations. About 36 percent of the jobs in the social assistance industry are in service occupations. These workers generally provide direct services to their clients. Many do work that requires hands-on interaction with clients. These workers include personal and home care aides and home health aides who help elderly, disabled, and ill persons live in their own homes, instead of in an institution. Personal and home care aides provide routine personal care services. They generally do non-medical tasks, such as cooking meals, basic cleaning, assisting the client to bathe or dress and, in some cases, accompanying the client to appointments. Home health aides provide health related services, like administering oral medication, or checking the client’s pulse rate or temperature. They may assist the client in performing exercises and help them bathe, dress, and groom.
Other occupations. Social and community service managers plan, organize and coordinate the activities of a social service program or community outreach program. This generally includes overseeing the budget and the execution of programs, events, and services. They often may direct and supervise those who are providing both direct and indirect services to the population they serve. In some situations, they may be responsible for fundraising activities or speaking to donors.
As in most industries, office and administrative support workers—secretaries and bookkeepers, for example—help with recordkeeping and other administrative tasks.
Training and Advancement
Training requirements within this industry vary greatly based on occupation, state licensure requirements, and the setting in which the work is done. Many workers begin in this industry by working as a volunteer. Volunteering with a student, religious, or charitable organization is a good way for jobseekers to test their interest in social assistance, and may provide an advantage when applying for jobs in this industry. However, for many occupations, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is required for entrance into the industry.
Professional and related occupations. Entry requirements vary based on occupational specialty and State licensure and certification requirements. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions as social workers, health educators, marriage and family therapists and counselors. However, some specialties and employers may require additional education, like a master’s degree, or some previous experience. In some settings and specialties, social workers, marriage and family therapists and counselors may be required to obtain a State-issued license. Licensure requirements vary from State to State, but most States require a master’s degree and 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.
Educational requirement are less stringent for social and human service assistants. Some employers do not require any education beyond high school, but they may prefer some related work experience. Other employers favor workers who have completed some coursework in human services, social work, or another social or behavioral science. Other employers prefer an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in human services or social work. A number of employers also provide in-service training, such as seminars and workshops.
Professional workers in this industry often advance to a supervisory position, such as supervisor, program manager, assistant director, or executive director. Generally, advancing to this level requires a master’s degree and the appropriate licenses. Some workers opt to move away from positions that provide services directly to clients and become involved in policymaking, grant writing, or research. Others enter private practice and provide psychotherapeutic counseling and other services on a contract basis.
Service occupations. Service occupations within this industry generally require little to no education beyond a high school diploma. Personal and home care aides generally receive some basic on-the-job training. The Federal Government has guidelines for home health aides whose employers receive reimbursement from Medicare and requires home health aides to pass a competency test covering a wide range of topics, including documentation of patient status and care provided; reading and recording of vital signs; basic infection-control procedures, and basic bodily functions. As result, many home health aides receive some training prior to taking the exam.
Workers in service occupations may opt to get some additional training and may advance to, for example, licensed practical nurse. Some personal and home care aides may opt to open their own business.
Job opportunities in social assistance should be plentiful because employment is expected grow rapidly and many workers leave the industry and need to be replaced.
Employment change. Employment within this industry is expected to grow rapidly relative to all other industries through 2016. The number of nongovernment wage and salary jobs is expected to increase 59 percent, compared with only 11 percent for all industries combined. However, growth will not be evenly distributed amongst the industry’s subsectors. The individual and family services industry is expected to grow by 73 percent, making it one of the fastest growing industries in the economy. Community food and house and emergency and other relief services is expected to grow by 19 percent and vocational rehabilitation services is expected to grow 22 percent over the 2006-2016 projection period.
Growth of employment in the social assistance industry may depend, in large part, on the amount of funding made available by the government and managed-care organizations. Employment in private social service agencies may grow if State and local governments contract out some of their social services functions in an effort to cut costs.
Projected job growth in individual and family services will be due mostly to an increase in the population that will demand additional services from this sector. As baby boomers age, there is expected to be an increase in the elderly population, one of the primary segments of the populations that requires services from this industry. As a result, there will be an expansion in programs that serve the elderly, such as adult day care or services that provide home care, allowing the elderly to remain in their home for as long as possible. Furthermore, the number of small children and immigrants is expected to rise during the projections decade, increasing demand for programs aimed at assisting families. These may include after-school programs and mentoring programs or classes in English as a Second Language. Similarly, services for the mentally ill, the physically disabled, and families in crisis will be expanded and demand will increase for drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs.
Growth in community housing and food and emergency and other services will result from an increase in urbanization. As the population becomes more densely populated, more people will be affected by natural disasters, increasing the demand for disaster relief. Furthermore, demand for housing and food assistance will remain steady. However, charitable giving has been on the rise in recent years, so shelters and food banks may be able to respond to some of the growing demand for assistance.
Employment growth in vocational rehabilitation services is expected due to a steady demand for services from individuals with some form of physical or mental disability. Workers in this sector will continue to serve people who are injured on the job and need assistance moving back into the work environment. The main source of demand for this sector is injuries that are covered by worker’s compensation, which are expected to grow as the population expands.
Some of the fastest growing occupations in the Nation are concentrated in social assistance. The number of home health aides within social assistance is projected to grow 79 percent and employment of personal and home care is expected to grow by 79 percent between 2006 and 2016. Employment growth for these two occupations is driven predominantly by the need to provide services to the elderly and ill in their homes and avoid expensive hospital or nursing home care. The number of social and human service assistants is expected to grow by 76 percent as the work of many social services is restructured to employ more assistants and fewer higher-paid social workers and counselors.
Job prospects. Besides job openings arising from employment growth, many additional openings will stem from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or stop working. Workers leave jobs in this industry at a higher rate than the rest of the economy, making job prospects excellent.
Industry earnings. Average earnings in the social assistance industry are lower than the average for all industries, as shown in table 3. Earnings in selected occupations in the social assistance, except child day care industry in May 2006 appear in table 4. As in most industries, professionals and managers commonly earn more than other workers, reflecting higher education levels, broader experience, and greater responsibility.
Benefits and union membership. Professional workers in this industry typically receive benefits, such as medical insurance and paid time off. However, those working in service occupations generally receive no benefits. About 12 percent of workers in the social assistance industry were union members or were covered by union contracts in 2006, about the same as workers throughout all industries.
Sources of Additional Information
Disclaimer:Links to non-JA Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.
For information about careers in social work and voluntary credentials for social workers, contact:
National Association of Social Workers, 750 First St. NE., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20002-4241. Internet: http://www.socialworkers.org
For information on programs and careers in human services, contact:
Council for Standards in Human Services Education, Harrisburg Area Community College, Human Services Program, One HACC Dr., Harrisburg, PA 17110-2999. Internet: http://www.cshse.org
National Human Services Assembly 1319 F Street, NW, Suite 402, Washington, DC 20004. Internet: http://www.nassembly.org
For information regarding jobs in nonprofit organizations and voluntary credential information, contact:
American Humanics, Inc. 1100 Walnut Ave, Suite 1900, Kansas City, MO 64106. Internet: http://www.humanics.org.
State employment service offices also may be able to provide information on job opportunities in social assistance.
Information on many occupations in social assistance, including the following, may be found in the 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook:
Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides
Personal and home care aides
Social and human service assistants
Teachers—adult literacy and remedial education
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Social Assistance, Except Child Day Care, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs040.htm (visited November 08, 2009 ).