There are 200,000 social workers in China serving a population 1.3 billion. By 2050, 480 million Chinese (50% more than the entire US population) will be 60+ years old and many will need assistance that their families can’t provide, especially given the legacy of the one-child policy. In response, the Chinese government has announced a plan to “build an army of 1.45 million social workers by 2020.” The big problem, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, is that there are only 250 universities on the mainland providing bachelor’s degrees in social work. That may seem like a lot, but they currently only graduate about 15,000 social workers a year. And the starting salary isn’t too appealing: about 2,500 yuan ($386) per month even in big cities like Shanghai – and that’s the high end.
While the American government is no longer a model in China for fiscal restraint, it’s investment in and commitment to social work does shine a light. 650,500 social workers currently serve the American population of 314 million, and the profession in the US is expected to grow 25 percent to 811,700 by 2020. (The majority of growth will come in the ‘healthcare’ category – caring for aging baby boomers, just like what the Chinese need.) An American committee working with the Chinese has selected seven American universities – including Arizona State, Fordham, and the University of Chicago – to help China meet its goal. Even if the Chinese do manage to train enough workers so that there’s more than one social worker for every 2400 Chinese seniors (the oncoming predicament), the profession will certain need a brand and salary boost in order to attract ambitious young Chinese who see opportunity everywhere they look. The average US social worker salary is $42K. Not a king’s ransom but it’s a better standard of living than 2,500 yuan a month. Then again the US, which supports the infrastructure for many of these workers with social safety net programs, owes China $1 trillion.