Maine is known for its wealth of natural beauty. Jagged cliffs, rocky beaches, pristine forests, and picturesque mountains. It’s a place to enjoy lobster on the rough, eating with a view of a lighthouse or perhaps even the very fishing boat that caught your dinner.
It is a state of economic disparity; income is definitely closely tied to location. Residents of Maine who live in the larger cities experience much higher incomes than those who live in the rural areas. Sparsely populated by notoriously independent thinkers, Maine is a state with a wide range of living conditions.
Social Work Challenges
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in its 2013-2017 State Health Improvement Plan that the top priorities of the state are as follows: obesity, substance abuse, mental health, tobacco use and associated efforts to educate, inform and support the public through community partners (1).
Maine has a particularly challenging problem with substance abuse. In fact, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that Maine has by far the highest rate of prescription drug abuse. In fact, the state has approximately eight times the national average number of residents in treatment programs for recovery from prescription drug abuse. The state has responded with initiatives to prevent and treat substance abuse, making it the perfect time to become a substance abuse or mental health social worker in the state (2).
Maine also has a larger than average elderly population (17 percent of the population is over 65; the national average is 13.7 percent) (3). If you are interested in becoming a healthcare social worker, specializing in gerontology work, Maine is a great place to work.
Because so much of Maine is rural, this is also a great place for social workers who want to live in a rural area and work with people living under the poverty level in underserved areas. However, there are many job opportunities in urban settings as well.
Becoming a Social Worker
According to the 2014 US News & World Report graduate school rankings, the University of Maine School of Social Work (Orono) ranks number 89 in the nation. Two other schools of social work, the University of New England and the University of Southern Maine (both located in Portland), tied at number 130 (4).
The University of New England is unique in that it offers both an online masters in social work program and a hybrid program (half online, half in classroom). Students who work appreciate the ways the classes are tailored to suit the needs of students who have to work while completing their master’s degree (5).
In May 2013 the State of Maine Department of Health and Services declared that the state has a chronic shortage of social workers. In response to this realization, the state passed an “Act To Amend the Social Work Education Loan Repayment Program” (6). You might want to check out the loan forgiveness programs available to social workers working in “Health Professional Shortage Areas” (HPSA). If you are willing to work in a position that supports an underserved population, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $20,000 a year for two years, for a total of $40,000 of loan forgiveness. Check out the requirements of both the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Finance Authority of Maine Loan Forgiveness Program (FAME).
Finding a Job in Social Work
Healthcare social workers are predicted to be in highest demand between now and the year 2020, with a predicted increase of 19 percent in demand. As of 2013, healthcare social workers can expect to make an average of $45,900 per year, which is lower than the national average of $50,800. While job hunting, you might want to compare the salary offering to the cost of living of the area (7).
Mental health and substance abuse social workers in Maine can expect to make more than the national average (the national average being $41,000 per year, compared to the average of $46,700 per year in Maine) (8). However, the best paying social work jobs in Maine are in higher education. Postsecondary social work teachers in Maine can expect to make an average of $60,300, but these jobs are scarce (9).
Licensure and Professional Development Resources
- National Association of Social Workers, Maine Chapter
- National Association of Social Workers, Maine Chapter
- State of Maine Professional and Financial Regulation, State Board of Social Work Licensure
- Society of Social Work Leadership in Health Care, Maine Chapter
Universities with Master’s in Social Work Programs in Maine
- 2013-2017 State Health Improvement Plan, 2013. Maine Center for Disease Control. http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/
- “Prescription Drug ABuse Spikes in Maine,” 2011. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/21/prescription-drug-abuse_n_851968.html
- State and County Quick Facts: Maine, 2013. United States Census Bureau. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/23000.html
- Graduate School Social Work Programs: Maine, 2014. US News & World Report. http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/search?spp=10&program=top-social-work-schools&name=&zip=maine&program_rank=Any&sort=&sortdir=
- Social Work Programs, 2014. University of New England. http://www.une.edu/wchp/socialwork/programs
- “Loan Forgiveness Bill to Support Keeping Social Workers in Maine,” 2013. Maine Insights. http://maineinsights.com/perma/loan-forgiveness-bill-to-support-keeping-social-workers-in-maine
- Occupation Profile: Healthcare Social Workers: Maine, 2013. Career One Stop. http://www.careerinfonet.org/occ_rep.asp?optstatus=011000000&soccode=211022&id=1&nodeid=2&stfips=23&search=Go
- Occupation Profile: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: Maine, 2013. Career One Stop. http://www.careerinfonet.org/occ_rep.asp?optstatus=011000000&soccode=211023&id=1&nodeid=2&stfips=23&search=Go
- Occupation Profile: Social Work Teachers, Post-Secondary: Maine, 2013. Career One Stop. http://www.careerinfonet.org/occ_rep.asp?optstatus=011000000&soccode=251113&id=1&nodeid=2&stfips=23&search=Go