The Covid Pandemic Increased Vulnerability to Forced Labor in Global Supply Chains

Comprehensive evidence points to increased vulnerability of workers to forced labor in global supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, an analysis published today by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) has found.

The Centre, which was created to enhance understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of law and policies designed to address it, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Council.

The Modern Slavery PEC has carried out an analysis of evidence, including new academic research funded by the Centre, on the impact of Covid-19 on modern slavery across the world.

The analysis has found that the pandemic has increased vulnerability to modern slavery all over the world, including in the UK, as many of the underlying wider factors underpinning modern slavery have worsened, such as poverty, inequality and unemployment. Construction, manufacturing, including ready-made garment production, as well as accommodation and food services have been the sectors most affected by the pandemic.

It found that the increased vulnerability of workers to forced labor is often linked to long and complex supply chains, of which businesses have limited visibility. Already vulnerable groups, such as migrant and informal workers, were most affected, particularly in the lower tiers of supply chains.

There is evidence of an increase in the risk of forced labor both in supply chains that experienced a significant reduction in demand, such as garments, and those that experienced demand spikes, such as PPE production.

The problems were compounded by businesses struggling with the immediate impact of the pandemic making it difficult to mitigate the modern slavery risks in their supply chains, including by making it very challenging to carry out due diligence processes on suppliers on the ground.

Additionally, some of the early response by business to the pandemic exacerbated vulnerability to modern slavery, for example by cancelling contracts and withholding payment for goods already produced.

Modern Slavery PEC Partnership Manager Owain Johnstone, one of the authors of the analysis, said:

“Covid-related supply chain disruption is a wake-up call for businesses. The evidence that the pandemic has worsened people’s vulnerability to forced labor in global supply chains is overwhelming.”

“The pandemic has highlighted the complexity and fragility of many supply chains and reinforced the link between the lack of visibility over supply chains and the vulnerability of workers to modern slavery. More transparent, resilient supply chains are better for business and better for workers”, he added.

Dr Jo Meehan, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Purchasing at University of Liverpool Management School, who led the Modern Slavery PEC project on the impact of Covid-19 on the management of supply chains, said:

“Demand volatility has been extremely high during the pandemic. It acts as a driver of modern slavery as it erodes profits, encourages the use of temporary and precarious workers, and destabilises capacity in supply markets.”

However, the Modern Slavery PEC’s analysis has also pointed out that the pandemic may lead to longer-term positive changes to supply chain dynamics. This includes greater visibility and awareness of supply chains that Covid has forced on businesses and increased awareness of exploitation affecting supply chains.

Dr Meehan said: “Our study revealed that because of the pandemic, two-thirds of businesses sourced from new suppliers and undertook additional supply chain mapping. Therefore, there is an opportunity for businesses to use these new relationships as springboards to understand the impacts of their own business model and practices, and how they may change to collectively tackle, and prevent, modern slavery.”

For example, evidence suggests that some businesses have already moved towards the ‘localisation’ of their supply chains, working to shorten them and bring suppliers closer to home to avoid future disruption, which is likely to decrease modern slavery risks. Another example includes extending inventory planning cycles to take their longer-term demand into account and enable better workforce planning.

Johnstone said: “It’s clear that the crisis has pushed businesses to strengthen their hold on their entire supply chains, which can make it easier to address any exploitation issues potentially affecting them.

“We urge businesses to use the pandemic experience as a platform to increase visibility and transparency over their supply chains, as well as improving collaboration with their suppliers and peer companies.”

Why State Spending on Higher Education May Not Improve the Economy in Many States

In recent years, the idea of tuition-free colleges and universities in the United States has made its way into mainstream political debates. In many ways, this idea makes good economic sense. Federal subsidies that help state governments eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public universities shift tax burdens to the federal government. This, in turn, levels burdens across states in both taxes and the cost of higher education.

However, federally subsidized free college tuition would risk worsening economic inequality among states. Although states should take steps to enlarge access to higher education, state investments in higher education must be accompanied by — or preceded by — policies to improve job opportunities and living standards in low-income states. Otherwise, only those states that are already ahead will reap the economic benefits of greater federal investments in higher education. Inequalities across states would get worse. This brief explains the contradictory imperatives at work.

Why Investing in Higher Education is Beneficial

Higher education is a good that society should provide on the basis of need rather than allocating only according to people’s ability or willingness to pay. This should not need to be justified on economic grounds. Although there are a number of good reasons for state governments to invest in higher education, some are economic while others cannot be reduced to fiscal considerations. Broader social benefits include lower crime rates, improved public health, and stronger familial and social relationships. Furthermore, in addition to providing such quality of life and societal benefits, higher education prepares students for active citizenship and community leadership.

Compelling economic benefits also come from investment in higher education. Such state spending increases human capital – the combination of knowledge, productivity, and creativity that produces economic value. This in turn improves state economies and productivity. Research shows that state economic performances rise with the proportion of residents holding bachelor’s degrees. And the stronger the state’s economy, the more it spends on higher education.

When Investing in Higher Education is Not Economically Beneficial

However, not all states enjoy the same benefits when they increase access to higher education. The economic returns from investment in higher education are not felt right away; they tend to take at least four years to show up. And long-term investments like those required for higher education are often harder to implement in low-budget states with lagging economies. Such states are doubly disadvantaged, because their less robust economies often offer poorer job prospects and living standards to graduates. Troubled economies are often on the losing end of the “brain drain,” in which many graduates from colleges in states with poor job markets move to other — usually more prosperous — states after graduation.

In the short term, state economies can benefit more from efforts to increase the number of college graduates who move into the state, or stay after graduation, than from policies that subsidize increased enrollments at in-state universities. Such enlarged enrollments will only improve a state’s economy if the number of new enrollees at in-state institutions far outweighs the number of graduates who leave the state, or if the graduates who remain become so productive that they more than compensate for those who leave.

Validating this logic, data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association and the U.S. Census do reveal that states that spend more on higher education do attract and enroll more students in their colleges and universities, but do not necessarily enjoy the economic benefits of a well-educated workforce and general population. Regardless of spending on higher education, states with the most employment opportunities and highest expected earnings generally enjoy the greatest returns on human capital. No matter where people go to college, those “good jobs” states are the ones that will reap the economic benefits.

Implications for Investments in Higher Education

Although these findings are good news for already prosperous states, they do not bode well for states with lagging economies. These states are not only likely to miss the economic benefits of ramping up investments in higher education; their current investments likely benefit the already better-off states that attract their graduates. What is more, when states with lagging economies invest in higher education and cannot retain graduates or attract them from other states, they are often unable to attract other forms of private or public investments necessary to spur economic regeneration. In short, they cannot catch up.

There are, however, reforms that could alleviate economic burdens on poor states while still lowering financial barriers to higher education.

  • States with less robust economies can provide incentives for graduates to stay, such as programs that link tuition remissions to commitments to work in-state for some number of years. Other useful steps include housing incentives for graduates who remain and university-sponsored internships that pair undergraduates with possible future employers.

  • Instead of subsidizing enrollments, national-level subsidies could help low-income states invest in higher education and reduce the disparities of higher education costs and tax burdens across states. Moving the tax burden to the national level makes sense, given state-to-state migration of college graduates. State-funded higher education systems, however, offer protections against federal overreach about what gets taught at universities. Steps to shift the tax burden must also include protections for local and state educational control to ensure federal funding does not narrow the range of ideas deemed acceptable for debate and discussion on campus.

Few debate the value of higher education. Yet as policymakers work to reduce inequality across the country, they must be sure to craft policy solutions that truly keep poor states from falling further behind. By shifting investments in higher education to the national level and making greater efforts to reduce inequalities among states, policymakers can help ensure a more equitable future and a stronger democracy for the United States as a whole.

How Focusing on Teen Pregnancy as a Personal Moral Failing Deepens Social Inequality

In the 1980s and 1990s, concerns about teen pregnancy voiced by policymakers and pundits helped garner support for welfare reform – as the public reached a consensus that teen pregnancy contributes to poverty and was encouraged by overly lenient welfare programs. Resulting welfare changes in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 imposed strict lifetime limits on the number of months a poor family can receive assistance while making it harder for impoverished families to qualify and remain eligible for aid. This policy was supposed to reduce welfare dependency by promoting work, reducing out-of-wedlock and adolescent pregnancies, and promoting marriage.

However, studies show that the age at which a person gives birth is not causally related to poverty or negative health outcomes for the parent or child. Teen pregnancy is a symptom of poverty, rather than its cause. While the 1996 law is credited with reducing the welfare rolls, experts argue that it has also increased the number of Americans living in at the deepest level of poverty. Declines in adolescent pregnancy cannot be attributed to that policy shift. If anything, welfare reform may have increased the rate of adolescent pregnancies among welfare recipients.

Welfare Reform and Shifting Perspectives on Teen Pregnancy

After the 1996 passage of welfare reform, conversations about teen pregnancy that had previously included attention to urban conditions, unemployment, inadequate health care, and the shortcomings of public education turned to an almost-exclusive focus on adolescent sex and the personal and moral failings it supposedly represents. My research examines political discourse, popular culture, and national and local efforts to prevent teen pregnancies to better understand why teen sex and childbearing remain central to popular culture and policy debates, despite research showing that teen pregnancy is a symptom of poverty and not a cause. I further examine why there has not been a reevaluation of welfare policy despite the documented shortfalls of earlier reforms. And I also probe how these two phenomena may be related.

Moral arguments have featured prominently in debate about adolescent sex since the 1970s, when teen pregnancy was first named as a special problem. Before the 1996 welfare legislation, however, the moral aspect was one of many. Only since then have the personal moral responsibilities of teen parents become the only lens through which responses are discussed.

Who Shapes Images of Teen Pregnancy and Why?

Some of the same voices that narrowed the discussion of welfare reform in the 1990s still shape discussions today. In 1996, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (recently renamed Power to Decide) was founded as a counterpart to welfare reform. Power to Decide remains influential and is guided by leaders who helped popularize the overly-narrow view that teen pregnancy is largely a moral issue. In addition to helping enact welfare reform, these politicians and social scientists changed the debate about teen pregnancy. But to what end?

By studying shifts in public portrayals of teen pregnancy as a problem in national debates and in the activities, social media output, and television contributions of Power to Decide, I discovered that the moralized focus has specific effects:

  • It removes teen pregnancy from the context of welfare. Whereas the issue was almost exclusively part of political debates about the welfare system in the 1980s and 1990s, in subsequent decades it is discussed primarily within debates about sex education and abortion.
  • It paints the issue as an equal-opportunity problem. No longer is teen pregnancy represented as primarily plaguing Black and Latina communities. In shows like 16 and Pregnant, which has a mostly white cast, as well as in online games with multicultural characters and public service announcements with high-profile celebrities such as Bristol Palin, teen pregnancy is now publicly portrayed as equally affecting all races and classes.
  • It depicts burdens of teen pregnancy as primarily physical and emotional. Stress on the pains of childbirth and the strains of parenthood for young relationships displaces earlier discussions of the potential impacts of teen pregnancy on a young person’s economic self-sufficiency and educational attainment.

Such shifts in public discussion fail to account for race, class, and the importance of social institutions in shaping the rate and experience of adolescent pregnancy. If U.S. systems of education, welfare, taxation, criminal justice, and health care are not portrayed as contributing to this problem, they will be left out of proposed solutions. The current focus on personal morality avoids addressing any societal roots or remedies. Instead, politicians and advocates informed by the rhetoric of the 1996 welfare reform offer attractively packaged information about sex and morality – often safely conveyed on the Internet – as their response to teen pregnancy. Questions of racism, inequality, and the inadequacies of the social safety net do not arise. In effect, public framings of teen pregnancy as a personal and moral problem blink at systematic racial disparities and leave low-income Americans vulnerable as inequalities widen.

Better Approaches

Focusing on teen pregnancy as a moral failing distracts citizens, policymakers, and advocates from addressing the real problems in young people’s lives. Instead, the priorities should be:

  • Reducing discrimination against pregnant young women and young parents in schools.
  • Providing comprehensive sex education and reproductive health care to all young people, not in the name of stigmatizing certain pregnancies but to equip adolescents with the knowledge and tools to make informed choices about sex and reproduction.
  • Replacing earlier failed welfare programs with economically redistributive measures to help people in difficult life circumstances – and boost the resources of marginalized communities.

Getting It Wrong, Making It Right: A Call to White Helping Professionals

Audre Lorde famously wrote that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” and in 2020, few passages ring truer. According to the National Association of Social Workers, the profession is meant to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people.” We want to help clients and organizations identify tools for survival, healing, and growth, but what we say we’re about and what we’re actually doing don’t always line up. The SWHelper-run Anti-Racism Virtual Summit on September 16 and 17 in 2020 offered a space for social workers and other helping professions to reflect on and rebuild our toolboxes. Speakers Crystal Hayes and Dr. Jennifer Jewell used their workshop, Dismantling White Supremacy in Social Work, to explore the field’s racist history and to offer steps that providers can take to transform our work. (You can learn more about this year’s Anti-Racism Virtual Summit here, taking place October 26th and the 27th.)

In last year’s event, Hayes, MSW, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut, and Jewell, Ph.D., the Director of Social Work at Salisbury University, depicted a steep uphill battle from complicity to transformation, initiated by progressive leaders but in need of more support. Hayes, a Black feminist reproductive justice advocate, opened the workshop with a powerful reflection on colonialism and the cultural genocide of Indigenous and First Nations people, whose sacred land we occupy. In truth, many of our struggles (colonialism, police brutality, and the climate crisis, to name a few) share the same root problem: white supremacy. Critical race theorist Frances Lee Ansley characterized white supremacy as the systematic hoarding of power and resources by White people paired with widespread views of Whites as dominant and non-Whites as subordinate. This is the foundation on which the social work profession was built and the fire from which many “helping” tools were forged. 

Deep-Roots

Hayes’ call for an intersectional, decolonized approach to social work requires us to take off our rose-colored glasses and take a hard look at our origin story. Jane Addams, often lauded as the mother of social work and a leader for suffrage (a movement imbued with racism), was no saint. Addams, the 1931 recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize and a celebrated figure even today, was also an example of segregation, paternalism, and gatekeeping in action. It is not enough to quickly admit these flaws and move on; we need to sit with the full weight of the damage inflicted, to understand how deep our racist roots reach. There is no quick fix for the discomfort we feel, but we can learn and grow from it. Less than 100 years later, the field is still dominated by White women, beneficiaries of white supremacy just as Addams was.

From segregated settlement houses to the sanctioned kidnapping of Indigenous children and disparate rates of removal of Black children from their families, to eugenics and the forced sterilization of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, our field has been using tools of oppression, not liberation. All signs point back to white supremacy: these disparities happen in settings where social workers hold power and control decision-making. We see ourselves as progressive saviors, but we have also done deep harm, not just healing. These legacies are not a relic of our past, either. They have lived on through redlining, internment camps, prisons, and the ICE detention centers where women today still endure needless hysterectomies under the supervision of doctors who were spoon-fed covert racism in their training. Health and economic outcomes from COVID-19 show plainly that racism still touches all the spaces where social workers practice. 

Evolving the Social Work Profession

The “ah-ha” moment of Hayes’ and Jewell’s presentation emerged when Jewell gets at the difference between non-racist and anti-racist. Ibram Kendi teaches that anti-racism is a verb, and non-racism does not exist at all. As Jewell put it, “kind does not equal anti-racist.” Kindness and decency are not liberation tools, but anti-racism – actively working to take down oppressive systems – is. Social work did not begin as an anti-oppression movement, but it can become one. Research consistently shows that the whole profession needs an overhaul. Not sure where to start? Here are a few places to focus your attention:

  1. Education access and integrity. We can look upstream to the racialized K-12 opportunity gaps and school to prison pipeline that create barriers for future change-makers. Academic institutions must make schooling affordable; pursuing an MSW requires wealth or strong credit, but wealth is directly connected to race because of white supremacy, perpetuating the cycle. Student unions can demand anti-oppression commitments from field placement sites and protest the exploitative norm of unpaid internships
  2. Policy reform. Social workers need to be explicitly anti-racist and reflect on how our identities and biases help or hinder our effectiveness in clinical and macro roles alike. There is a time and place for us to surrender our privilege as much as there is a time to leverage it for change and reform in law enforcement, child welfare, and the many other settings where we operate. 
  3. Decentering whiteness. In schools, we can decolonize curricula to showcase the contributions of BIPOC providers in social work theory, research, and practice. In our agencies, we should prioritize the recruitment, retention, and promotion of people from the communities directly impacted by racial oppression. We can look to community-led revolutions like Black settlement houses, the Black Panther Party, and BLM for best practices on equity and healing. 
  4. Accompliceship and accountability. Being accomplices against white supremacy means reconsidering how we share the air – are we whitesplaining oppression to BIPOC clients and colleagues but staying silent when oppression occurs, expecting them to call it out? Racism going under our radar is not an excuse – it is a symptom of the problem. Most of all, when we get it wrong (as we all do), we must be accountable and commit to doing better.

Like most revolutions, the charge is being led by young people: doctoral and graduate students in the field, community organizers, and clients who experienced harm at the hands of oppressive systems. Not only White social workers but all White “helping” professionals have an ethical responsibility to unpack our toolboxes and to get rid of what’s broken. After all, liberation work is about impact, not intent. Some people would call a hammer a tool, and others would call it a weapon; who holds it and how they swing it is what makes the difference.

As Cities Grow in Size, the Poor ‘Get Nothing at All’ Study Show

Cities are hubs of human activity, supercharging the exchange of ideas and interactions. Scaling theory has established that, as cities grow larger, they tend to produce more of pretty much everything from pollution and crime to patents and wealth. On average, people in larger cities are better off economically. But a new study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface builds on previous research that says, that’s not necessarily true for the individual city-dweller. It turns out, bigger cities also produce more income inequality.

“Previous literature has looked at [urban scaling] through a lens of homogeneity,” says Santa Fe Institute (SFI) Omidyar Fellow Vicky Chuqiao Yang, an author on the study. These studies have shown a per-capita increase in wealth as cities grow. “But we know from other literature, especially in economics, that many societies are unequal and economic outputs are not distributed evenly.”

Using data from municipal areas across the U.S., the authors took another look at urban wealth through a lens of heterogeneity. Breaking the income in their dataset into deciles, the team found that, as cities grow larger, the top ten percent of income earners gain an increasingly large portion of the wealth.

“For a long time, what has often been thought about in urban scaling is the whole system,” says co-author Chris Kempes, also of the Santa Fe Institute along with co-author Geoffrey West. Kempes and West have worked closely together to study scaling relationships in systems from cities to biological organisms.

But it’s not just wealth that tends to increase as cities grow; the cost of living also increases. So, the authors factored in an adjustment for housing prices. With that adjustment, their analysis showed that, as cities get bigger, the housing costs increase at a faster rate than lower-decile income.

“For the lower decile, there is no proportional increase in wealth. So, the city is not increasing economic benefit, but it’s not decreasing it either,” says Kempes. “However, since costs do go up, the experience of the poorest individuals gets worse.”

Across the world, civilization is undergoing rapid urbanization. More than half the world’s humans currently live in urban settings, and in the coming decade, researchers predict the number of megacities — those with 10 million people or more — will quadruple. “There is an urgent need for a quantitative and predictive theory for how larger urban areas affect a wide variety of city features, dynamics, and outcomes,” write the authors.

The questions in this study were initially raised by co-authors Cate Heine, Elisa Heinrich Mora, and Jacob J. Jackson, who together spanned two cohorts of Undergraduate Complexity Researchers at the Santa Fe Institute.

According to West, the new results emphasize that inequality is primarily an urban phenomenon, arising from underlying social dynamics “that desperately need to be addressed.” He speculates that poorer city dwellers are missing out on the increased social interactions that are credited with driving innovation and wealth creation in large metropolises.

“What was a huge surprise in this research was that, as the city grows, there’s no advantage to people in the bottom 10-20th percentiles. As you go down the income deciles, the value-added for city-dwellers got less and less in a systematic way… so much so that, in the bottom decile you get nothing at all. There’s even evidence that you’re losing quality of life,” says West. “Here we found that rich are getting even richer than we thought and the poor are getting even poorer than we thought.”

Read the paper, “Scaling of urban income inequality in the USA,” in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface (August 2021)

Global Social Work Agenda and Social Development

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Recently, I had chance to watch “The Inequality Movie” narrated by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich where it outlines how the United States has one of the poorest distribution of wealth in the world. This was a great movie highlighting the need for change on the legislative and policy levels. Although the film focuses on inequality in the United States, it is no surprise this is an issue faced by many societies around the globe. In response to the inequality around the world, Social work has developed it’s first global response to the issues of inequality and the distribution of wealth.

F1.mediumIn the last four years, three lead organizations facilitated conversations on each developed continent to address the cause and solutions for those most effected by inequality. Through the leadership of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) and International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW), social workers from around the wold are attempting to problem solve and develop actionable measures to address inequality.

The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: First Report -promoting social and economic equalities at first appearance seems like a humongous effort, but it demonstrates the ability of the profession to works towards collective impact in coordination of efforts to improve outcomes for those we serve.

The report examines the unique conditions of each continent and how social workers presented their solutions. Policy changes and macro interventions were at the heart of this report.

Africa

Social Workers in this forum called upon the UN to develop regulations to curb this process. They also noted that there was a huge disconnect between social policy and those most affected by it.  Solutions need to be more locally driven.

Asia Pacific

Social work is getting more organized in this region focused on disaster relief, more direct engagement with consumer groups, and respect for indigenous peoples.

Europe

The primary problem is drastic cuts in programs since the economic crisis in 2011.  The group gathered evidence of how these programs being cut increased suicide, joblessness, and homeless rates. They have placed emphasis on health inequalities to treat these issues are more of a public health problem.

Latin America Caribbean

Politics in this region have often quieted more macro-efforts  however their  voice is getting louder. The focus has been on more community organization and involve clients in more decision making.

North America

The CSWE (Council on Social Work Education, USA), NASW (National association of social workers, USA) and Canadian Association of Social Workers developed several guidance documents to deal with issues of inequality and poverty.

Conclusion

As a result of these conversations the theme became “Asserting Your Voice“.  The Global Social Work agenda about Promoting Social and Economic equality will be based on the following values and actions:

•• The cornerstone of a thriving economy is a stable, well-resourced and educated community.

•• People are happier and wellbeing is better for all in more equitable societies.

•• When people have a collective voice, they are more able to advocate for their rights and participate in decision-making processes resulting in better wellbeing.

Social Work clearly have a lot to offer the world. The theme of inequality is at the heart of our practice. Problem solving inequality seemed like a grandiose project, but the global social work community broke it down into manageable steps.  I hope this inspires you to let your voice and the voice of the individuals you serve be heard.

Reference

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Harmondsworth: Penguin

The Top Twelve Grand Challenges Facing Society Today

Last year, the Society for Social Work and Research Conference in Washington, DC, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) unveiled its 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work with a bold call to action to help solve the toughest problems facing our society today.

When we reflect and take inventory of our ever changing society, a path of progress towards justice and equality can be seen on the horizon. However, we must be diligent in identifying those challenges and barriers that may retard our progress and growth while increasing inequality for our most vulnerable citizens.

In September 2015, the United Nations unveiled 17 Global Goals for Sustained Development in an effort to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix global climate change by 2030. The idea behind the global goals was to identify areas with the ability to affect the most change. Then, microtarget those areas through individual, organizational, and governmental action in order to maximize impact and improve outcomes.

However, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare have narrowed down their target areas even further by identifying 12 Grand Challenges in which they believe social workers both domestic and international can directly impact to improve outcomes for those we serve.

“This critical effort identifies and seeks to address the full range of major challenges facing society, from ending homelessness and stopping family violence to promoting smart decarceration and reversing extreme income inequality.”

Twelve Grand Challenges for Social Work

1. Ensure Healthy Development for All Youth

“Each year, more than six million young people receive treatment for severe mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. Strong evidence shows us how to prevent many behavioral health problems before they emerge. By unleashing the power of prevention through widespread use of proven approaches, we can help all youth grow up to become healthy and productive adults.”

2. Close the Health Gap

“More than 60 million Americans experience devastating one-two punches to their health—they have inadequate access to basic health care while also enduring the effects of discrimination, poverty, and dangerous environments that accelerate higher rates of illness. Innovative and evidence-based social strategies can improve health care and lead to broad gains in the health of our entire society.”

3. Stop Family Violence

“Family violence is a common American tragedy. Assaults by parents, intimate partners, and adult children frequently result in serious injury and even death. Such violence costs billions of dollars annually in social and criminal justice spending. Proven interventions can prevent abuse, identify abuse sooner, and help families survive and thrive by breaking the cycle of violence or finding safe alternatives.”

4. Advance Long and Productive Lives

Increased automation and longevity demand new thinking by employers and employees regarding productivity. Young people are increasingly disconnected from education or work and the labor force faces significant retirements in the next decades. Throughout the lifespan, fuller engagement in education and paid and unpaid productive activities can generate a wealth of benefits, including better health and well-being, greater financial security, and a more vital society.”

5. Eradicate Social Isolation

Social isolation is a silent killer—as dangerous to health as smoking. National and global health organizations have underscored the hidden, deadly, and pervasive hazards stemming from feeling alone and abandoned. Our challenge is to educate the public on this health hazard, encourage health and human service professionals to address social isolation, and promote effective ways to deepen social connections and community for people of all ages.”

6. End Homeless

“During the course of a year, nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night. Periods of homelessness often have serious and lasting effects on personal development, health, and well-being. Our challenge is to expand proven approaches that have worked in communities across the country, develop new service innovations and technologies, and adopt policies that promote affordable housing and basic income security.”

7. Create Social Response to a Changing Environment

“The environmental challenges reshaping contemporary societies pose profound risks to human well-being, particularly for marginalized communities. Climate change and urban development threaten health, undermine coping, and deepen existing social and environmental inequities. A changing global environment requires transformative social responses: new partnerships, deep engagement with local communities, and innovations to strengthen individual and collective assets.”

8. Harness Technology for Social Good

“Innovative applications of new digital technology present opportunities for social and human services to reach more people with greater impact on our most vexing social problems. These new technologies can be deployed to more strategically target social spending, speed up the development of effective programs, and bring a wider array of help to more individuals and communities.”

9. Promote Smart Decarceration

“The United States has the world’s largest proportion of people behind bars. Mass incarceration and failed rehabilitation have resulted in staggering economic and human costs. Our challenge is to develop a proactive, comprehensive, evidence-based “smart decarceration” strategy that will dramatically reduce the number of people who are imprisoned and enable the nation to embrace a more effective and just approach to public safety.”

10. Reduce Extreme Economic inequality

“The top 1% owns nearly half of the total wealth in the U.S, while one in five children live in poverty. The consequences for health and well-being are immeasurable. We can correct the broad inequality of wealth and income through a variety of innovative means related to wages and tax benefits associated with capital gains, retirement accounts, and home ownership. Greater lifelong access to education will also provide broader economic opportunities.”

11. Build Financial Capability for All

“Nearly half of all American households are financially insecure, without adequate savings to meet basic living expenses for three months. We can significantly reduce economic hardship and the debilitating effects of poverty by adopting social policies that bolster lifelong income generation and safe retirement accounts; expand workforce training and re-training; and provide financial literacy and access to quality affordable financial services.”

12. Achieve Equal Opportunity and Justice

“In the United States, some groups of people have long been consigned to society’s margins. Historic and current prejudice and injustice bars access to success in education and employment. Addressing racial and social injustices, deconstructing stereotypes, dismantling inequality, exposing unfair practices, and accepting the super diversity of the population will advance this challenge. All of this work is critical to fostering a successful society.

How will academics, practitioners, schools of social work, governmental and NGO social welfare agencies respond to the call? As a practitioner, we have all seen grand action plans created only to sit on the shelf and never see implementation. Will they provide information to impact change, then wait for someone else to spring into action to implement, or will the experts in our profession lead the charge by engaging in public debate on the issues social workers have the most direct impact?

Together, the 12 Grand Challenges define a far-reaching, science-based social agenda that promotes individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a just society.

Will Social Workers Embrace Hillary Clinton

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves before she delivers her "official launch speech" at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX1GCOG
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves before she delivers her “official launch speech” at a campaign kick off rally in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City, June 13, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid –

Saturday’s rally in Freedom Park on New York City’s Roosevelt Island provided Hillary Clinton with an opportunity to present ideas about what she will do to boost opportunity for prosperity for the poor and middle class. She spoke of four fights she will wage as President—getting the economy working for everyone, strengthening families, defending the country, and restoring integrity to the democratic process.

She vowed to support a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows unlimited money in the electoral process. She defined herself as a fighter who has been knocked down but not knocked out. She received criticism early in her public career beginning with the 1993 healthcare fiasco early in her husband’s presidency and the wasteful Whitewater investigation led by Ken Starr that cost taxpayers nearly $60 million. She is now embroiled in an investigation of her handling of email while Secretary of State.

The relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character have taken its toll. There are many who literally despise her. She has admittedly made mistakes but has not been found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. The voices that are loudest and heard the most are the haters. They wish she would go away. Take the money and run.

At 67 years old, why would she want to take on a Republican-led Congress? What is there to gain? She’s had the White House experience. She says she is seeking the Presidency because of her lifelong commitment to children and those less fortunate. There are millions of Americans who believe in Hillary Clinton and look to her for leadership and she will not abandon them.

Secretary Clinton is taking heat because of the millions she and Bill Clinton have amassed through their Clinton Global Foundation. There is nothing wrong with becoming rich in America as long as most people have a reasonable chance at success and you are not trying to destroy those chances by undermining unions and depressing wages.

Yet, both she and Bill missed opportunities to be magnanimous with their largesse instead of piling up huge sums of money for their personal use. Allegedly charging nonprofits huge fees for speeches seems a bit over the top. She needs to address this issue because it will not go away and while it may not prevent her from reaching the White House it puts a damper on her public support.

Should she be elected President—and the odds are truly in her favor because of the demographic makeup of the electorate during Presidential elections—she will have no magic wand that will bring about the sweeping changes she is proposing with her policy agenda. She will need an active and vibrant citizenry working with her and the Democratic Party to rebalance our political and economic systems to expand opportunities for prosperity.

She will need every supporter she can muster. Social workers should not just be part of the effort social workers should be leaders in the pursuit of a more egalitarian society. That means helping to register new voters, empowering individuals and communities to become more involved, getting people to vote, and running for elected office. Changing the system often requires changing people in the system.

Democrats have a nine point advantage over Republicans among Americans who identify with either party, 48 percent to 39 percent. Yet Republicans were able to win control over the Senate and control 31 state governorships. They are also in control of the State Senate in 35 states and the State House in 33 states. Republicans won 52 percent of the votes for the House of Representatives in 2014 but gained 57 percent of the seats. Hillary Clinton has pledged to rebuild state Democratic parties that were largely abandoned during the Obama presidency.

The next President of the United States may be in the position to nominate four Supreme Court justices over the course of two terms. That alone should motivate progressives not to sit idly on the sidelines but to be actively organizing and working to get more like-minded people to register and vote. It would be wonderful if Secretary Clinton was flawless but it’s enough for me to know that she wants to improve circumstances for the poor and middle class. I have no reason not to believe her other than the words of those who would like to see her fail.

America Sent the First Man to the Moon, but Can’t Track Police Killings

Protest_against_police_brutality

I started writing this article at a time when hundreds of people were taking to the streets to protest the death of Freddie Gray. Of course, if I had written this article a few weeks before, I would have been writing at the time of the death of Walter Scott; two months previously, I would have been writing at the time of the shooting of the homeless man known as Africa or three months before that, the murder of 12 year old Tamir Rice. I could go on.

In the United States, black men, women, boys, and girls are dying at the hands of the police every week. Let us not underestimate what is happening here; this is, as Dr. Randy Short described it, ‘incremental genocide.’This month, Chicago has become the first U.S. city to have to pay reparations to over 110 mostly African American men, who were tortured into confessions, between 1972 and 1991, by Jon Burge, a police lieutenant, and his subordinates.

We can call these tortures and these deaths whatever we want but what we cannot disagree on is that they are unjust, disproportionately affect a certain race and are predominantly ignored. Despite this blatant oppression and systematic abuse of people’s Human Rights, there are those who are still determined to deflect attention from it or justify it.

They are the people who shout louder about the rioting in Baltimore than they do about the decades of high-level homelessness and unemployment. They are the people who look for any trace of a criminal record on Mike Brown, as if somehow, an unrelated conviction justifies a heavy-handed death sentence. For some it is cognitive dissonance; for others it’s ignorance. Whatever the reason, the outcome is further oppression.

I have been writing for Social Work Helper for over a year now and greatly admire the hard work of the Founder and Editor Deona Hooper in highlighting the rampant racism that still exists in America. It has come to my attention, however, that many of the articles she posts on this topic receive a lot of negative attention from Social Workers who argue that advocating on this issue is not relevant to Social Work.

So what is the role of Social Workers in preventing these deaths and the racism that underpins them?

We know firsthand that the rioting in Baltimore and in Ferguson, and in London after the shooting of Mark Duggan, was a result, not only of poor police-community relations, but of huge societal inequalities. American and British Social Workers know that we live in two of the most unequal nations in the world, not because we read research articles that prove this, it’s because we live and breathe it with our Service Users every day. We sit with the homeless outside the multi-million dollar business head office; we take the young Mother shopping to show her how to make her $30 a week feed her whole family, whilst our politicians spend thousands of dollars on one meal.

As Social Workers, we see what poverty does. We see the corrosive, ubiquitous impact it has on society. Poverty is like a poison that seeps in to every aspect of a person’s life. It leads to the deterioration of physical health, mental health, our environments and our resilience. It leads to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

Yet, two of the richest nations in the world allow a huge proportion of their population to live in poverty. As Nelson Mandela said “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice.” Children’s Social Workers, Mental Health Social Workers and Criminal Justice Social Workers, would have a much reduced strain on their resources if the underlying issue of poverty was addressed. Therefore, we must keep giving a voice to those living in poverty until the current structures are changed and equality is achieved.

We know that poverty is a man-made injustice in the USA and Britain. So, what does it say when statistics show that you are less likely to live in poverty if you were born with white skin? There is a complex, yet undeniable role that racism plays in poverty demographics.  In Britain, people from a Black or Minority Ethnic group are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be paid below the living wage and more likely to be discriminated against at work.

This is only the very tip of the iceberg of a plethora of unequal treatment that runs through healthcare, mental healthcare, legal aid and education. Sometimes the inequality and discrimination is obvious, sometimes it is not; but the inequality is everywhere. Put simply, we cannot address poverty without acknowledging racism and we cannot call ourselves affective Social Workers without tackling poverty.

Being an effective Social Worker isn’t about filling in your paperwork better or faster than everybody else, it is about identifying the areas in which the people you work with are discriminated against, disadvantaged and oppressed while fighting to remove those obstacles.

Deona does not profit or get paid from this magazine, yet she continues to run an online international magazine which has over 80,000 followers on Facebook alone. When I asked her what motivates her to advocate nationally on issues of racism, she said: “I do it because I care… I feel that if I don’t stand on this issue important to my community in the Social Work world none of the other Social Work platforms located in the U.S. will.”

As a perfect example of the innate racism I have just described, Deona receives an enormous backlash for her selfless and important work. The Social Work Helper Facebook page was purposefully trolled by conservative Social Workers who all gave it one star ratings in an effort to drive the ratings down for the page. Eventually, Deona removed the Facebook ratings feature to prevent this type of nuisance. This is an effective tactic for companies and product pages to motivate change. However, Deona explained that Social Work Helper is free information and resources that people can choose to use or not use.

Apart from the actions of the conservative Social Workers being petty and hateful on a personal level, they are in fact part of the wider problem. If you silence oppression, you yourself are an oppressor. As a woman, I know what it is to have an invisible war waged against you. When people laugh at the fact your colleague makes sexist jokes at your expense, you’re told to take it as a joke; be quiet; stop complaining. As a result, those who did not even tell the joke – or pull the trigger on the innocent black man – provide the perfect environment for the oppression to continue unchallenged.

This is not an issue of black people versus white people. It’s an issue of those who recognize that racism affects us all versus those who don’t. Racism means we don’t get the best Teachers or Scientists because they were locked out of education from an early age due to their race. It means more crime and social problems for everyone. When I talk about race, as a white woman, it’s often deemed irrelevant. What does she know, she’s white? My family and loved ones are black. Racism affects me too.

What if the best Doctor in the world, who could save my Mum from a life-threatening illness, was shot dead at 15 by a Police Officer because he was black? Regardless of that person’s potential, treating another human being differently because of the way they were born is very simply wrong. Racism makes the world a poorer place, and we all feel that.

We all have to take responsibility for racism. The onus to solve this enormous problem cannot be on those who are victims of racism, much in the same way that we wouldn’t expect the victims of Domestic Violence to solve the issue of Domestic Violence. Dialogue is better than monologue and articles, such as the ones posted on Social Work Helper, are an ideal platform to start that dialogue.

If you are reading this, as one of the Social Workers who has stated that racism is not the cause to the rioting in Baltimore, or Ferguson, then you are, either through choice or ignorance, ignoring the facts. If you truly believe racism doesn’t exist, the very most that means, is that you haven’t opened your eyes to it. You are the reporters who insisted that the nooses hanging from the tree at Jena High School, after six young black boys sat under it, were a rodeo joke and nothing to do with the legacy of lynchings.

You may not want to talk about racism, but when you don’t, the result is the rioting we are seeing in Baltimore today. It is the rioting we saw in London in 2011 and it is the rioting we will see again next month.

The Ferguson police force were proved, beyond reasonable doubt, to have racist views. When a white man with racist views, kills an innocent black man through fears of the black stereotype, that is a racist killing. The rule appears to be, that if you are in Police uniform when you kill someone, it is not only justifiable to wrongfully kill someone, but to some degree, it was the victim’s fault and the black community’s fault.

I have three nephews, aged ten and below, who are of African descent. By Police standards, they would be considered to be black. I am thankful everyday that they are being raised in England and not the U.S.A. And whilst England too is plagued by racism throughout the criminal justice system, I can rest easy knowing that summary executions of young black men by the Police are the exception here, rather than the rule. I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish parents of black children feel every day across the U.S.A. knowing that regardless of that fact their son has never committed a crime, he one day may not come home because he refused to stop for a police officer.

Aside from the economic racism, there is a potent institutional racism within our Police forces that I have written about countless times before. In England, Sir David McNee, then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, defending the actions of the Special Patrol Group (SPG), said to a black journalist “I understand the concern of your people. But if you keep off the streets of London and behave yourselves you won’t have the SPG to worry about.”

In 2003, Las Vegas Police Officer Brian Hartman shot and killed unarmed Orlando Barlow in the back, as he was on his knees and attempting to surrender. Hartman and the other officers in his unit celebrated the shooting by printing up t-shirts depicting Hartman’s rifle and the initials B.D.R.T. (Baby Daddy Removal Team), a racially charged term and reference to Barlow. The country that sent a man to the moon, decades ago, has admitted that it can’t keep track of the number of people killed by police officers. In a country such as America, this should be a very simple statistic to acquire.

You stay quiet about all this if you really want, but don’t call yourself a Social Worker. Don’t ever silence others who are courageous enough and determined enough to say what needs to be screamed from the top of all of our lungs.

When it comes to racism, sexism, or any other form of oppression, you can continue to tell us to sit down and shut up, if you really want, but we won’t ever be quiet. I can guarantee that it is you that will be on the wrong side of history.

The Purpose of Education in a Democratic Society

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The purpose of education in a democratic society is to instill the values of cooperation, fairness and justice into the hearts of our students. I would argue that these values are essential to maintaining and improving a functioning democracy in any country. In Canada, our democracy is in serious need of a shake up. We have rising inequality due to an economic system based on competition and profit, we have a Prime Minister who is acting more and more like an authoritarian dictator and we have followed pace with the United States in dismantling the public good over the last forty years.

As a social studies teacher, and a concerned citizen, I often ask myself what do I want my students to be able to contribute to in their lives. Of course I want them to have successful lives in which they are able to follow their passions but I also want them, regardless of their profession, to be able to contribute to our democracy in some way. Democracy is at the heart of my teaching practice as I see my classroom as a microcosm of what our world could be. I want to create the conditions in my classroom where the principles of democracy reign supreme. I want my students to participate in the process of establishing class rules and culture. I want my students to have a voice in how they can demonstrate their knowledge as well as how they are assessed academically. In other words, I want to share the power in the classroom with my students.

Now, for many teachers reading this you may be thinking that I’m crazy to give up “control” in my classroom. But what we have to understand as educators is that our jobs is not to “control” students but to empower them to be critically thinking democratic citizens. Teachers must do away with any form of authoritarian teaching method and embrace a more democratic approach to ensure that our students understand that the work of democracy is important and worth while. We have to understand as teachers that even in democratic spaces we still have the authority to ensure the classroom is a safe space for all students but that we engage in dialogue with our students about the reasons for any decision we make and ask for student feedback on how the classroom is run.

We can’t run our schools and classrooms like a dictatorship and then pretend to think that our students will be prepared to be active citizens participating in our democratic system. We also have to ensure that we present democracy as a system and process that is always happening by being involved in our communities and institutions. Voting every election is only one aspect of being an active democratic citizen. Part of our responsibilities as citizens is to work with others collaboratively to accomplish shared goals and dreams. Any rights or freedoms that have been granted by politicians have rarely come independent of citizens demanding them as part of a larger social movement.

We have a crisis of democracy in Canada and Alberta with low voter turnouts and a lack of community in many areas. In Alberta, as students have began demanding Gay-Straight Alliances over more than the past decade it has made many social-conservatives in the province uneasy to say the least. These students are exercising their democratic voice and this week the province has decided that they will not protect this democratic right as the province has chosen to make the very political decision to strike a “balance” between those advocating for GSA’s and those who wish to suppress the voice of marginalized students in our schools.

Democracy is not for the faint of heart and it is something that must be protected by citizens of any country. Our schools must be places where students have a voice that is heard and they must be able to take action on issues that they care about. If we adults seek to limit or silence student voice in our schools and education system then we are condemning our democracy to further degradation. It’s time we make the shift towards a democratic approach to education in our classrooms and schools. If we don’t, our democracy and all of us will suffer for it.

Democratic Education Resources:

  1. Bringing Democratic Education to your Classroom and School

  2. What is Democratic Education

  3. Democratic Classrooms

The Underlying Racism and Inequality Behind Ferguson

Racism-deal-with-it

It has taken a great amount of time for me to process what has happened over the past several weeks in our country with regards to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. As a result, one of the messages I heard recently has been resonating with me which is “when women succeed, America succeeds,” spoken by President Obama at a women’s forum. What does this have to do with the underlying racism behind what happened in Ferguson? While analyzing the unfolding events of Ferguson, this quote provides a parallel and ideology for all disenfranchised groups in the United States. When inequality is eradicated, we all succeed, and America succeeds.

The inequality for African-Americans are generally no longer as blatant as the Jim Crow laws of the South, rather there is an underlying inequality that can be seen in the day-to-day lives and statistics for lives of African-Americans in the U.S. While watching the riots take place, it was hard to believe what was happening, but also made perfect sense at the same time. Anger, sadness, and most of all disappointment in the way our country handled the situation. Whether a cop, rioter, politician, professional, Christian, Jew, Atheist, black, white, male, or female, there was a wide array of emotions that were released.

I was most of all disappointed at the unfolding events because as a nation we were no longer unified, but torn in two. As President Obama stated in his address to the nation police vs. citizen trust, “regardless of race, region, faith we recognize that this is an American problem, and not just a black problem, or a brown problem, or a Native American problem…when anyone is not treated fairly under the law, that’s a problem.”

Although we have faith in our governmental systems on one hand, on the other hand we have the staggering statistics of social injustices done to the African-American community who feel like they have no voice within the United States. These social injustices were evident in Ferguson as primarily white governing bodies over the past year were giving the “boot” to the only African-American member of the school board and to the only African-American county executive while appointing their white counterparts. The African-American community believed these were racially charged actions by these governing bodies which is just one example of the underlying racism and inequality that lead to the unrest.

Racism and inequality is also evident in statistics across the board in key areas that lead to wide-spread poverty.  For instance, young African-American men are killed at least four times more by the authorities than any other race, are at least 1.5 times as likely to be a homicide victim than any other race, are incarcerated at a rate of at least six times more than whites, or that one in six African-American men will go to jail at some point in their life. These statistics could show one of two things, either African-Americans are engaging in more criminal activity or there is a huge inequality and race issue in these disparities. However, Mauer and King’s research suggests inequality and racial bias accounts for the disparities.

Their research suggests that African-Americans and whites commit crimes at approximately the same rate proportionally to their respective population, but that African-Americans are significantly more likely to be arrested. Carson’s research suggests similar findings showing that whites and African-Americans who are already in jail or prison are proportionally arrested at about the same rates for most crimes to their respective populations, minus violent crimes more African-Americans arrested and sexual assault more whites arrested. Not only are African-Americans arrested at substantially higher rates even though they commit the same percentage of crime compared to whites, but they are incarcerated on average twice as long as whites for similar if not the exact same crime.

In Ferguson, we see this especially being a problem because “over 80 percent of police traffic stops in the past five years have been of black drivers, despite blacks only comprising about two-thirds of the population.” Additionally, blacks are twice as likely to have their car searched than whites even though whites are about 1.5 times more likely to be found in possession of contraband. Not only do we see inequality in the justice system for African-Americans but we also see it in the economic system. For example, 21% of African-Americans in Ferguson live in poverty compared to only 7% of whites. These statistics highlight the sad racial disproportionately of the criminal justice system and larger societal system as a whole, since African-Americans make up less than 15% of the U.S. population.

African-Americans are often told by well-intentioned social welfare programs, “you don’t have to be a statistic”. I question to whom is this actually preaching to because it seems that being an African-American in the United States you are labeled as a “statistic” from day one in the eyes of the law and system. You can easily see how individual cases of inequality for the African-American population easily line up with many of the at risk statistics in our society. What this means is that all of the individual efforts produced by African Americans can be so easily overlooked, because of the perception and label that society has given them is perceived as “bad”.

Processing an event like Ferguson is not easy for anyone on any side of the debate.  Personally, I have been very invested in looking at all of the evidence I possibly could that was released by the Ferguson Police Department, the views of many conservative and liberal opinion and news websites, and hearing the voices from multiple perspectives especially from police officers and African-American men. The conclusion for this fairly all-inclusive investigation is that we all need to step back and realize these protests and riots are not just about Mike Brown, Ferguson, police shooting, or brutality against African-Americans in the U.S.

There is a larger conversation that needs to happen in order for our society to become equal successfully, and it is not a conversation that is based on whites vs. African-Americans, African American cops vs. whites, or white cops vs. African-Americans. Rather, the conversation should be based on how we create a more equal society for all to live, especially focusing on groups that are considered “vulnerable”, whether it is through policy, laws and on an individual level.

What is now becoming the start of a major social movement needs to be about “if the marginalized succeed, America succeeds”. It needs to address the small gains that African-Americans have made since the civil rights movement. As a country and especially a justice system, it does not seem that we care for the lives of African-Americans. As a society we have marginalized minority groups since the beginning of our country’s history, which was originally based on freedom, equality, and a sense of endless potential. One of the major underlying factors from Ferguson had nothing to even do with the justice system, rather it had to do with economic oppression. Those who believe that in the U.S. we have reached a point of equality, especially racial equality, should get their information not only from newspapers or websites, but academic journals and resources.

These journals are written and published by very qualified professionals and experts in their respective fields, not just politicians, news reporters, or overreaching corporations with an opinion. Not only has our society marginalized African-American and other immigrants, who came willingly or by force because of their skin color, we even did it to the native people because of slight differences in skin pigmentation or cultural beliefs. In the history of the United States and many parts of the world, we as a society have never reached a point of even moderate equality.

Racism and inequality impact the lives of African-Americans, but it is important to realize there are many more places these themes can be seen in every city in the U.S. The only way we can solve this problem is together as a society, country, state, or city by acknowledging the existence of an underlying inequality based on skin color or other identifying aspects of a person. Then, we need to fight for equality in all aspects of life.

As a social worker, it is my required duty to stand up for vulnerable populations. Beyond that realization, it should be every social workers job and goal to strive for equality for every race, gender, religion, or other social status indicator to create an America that is based in true freedom and equality. As a Christian, it is especially important to remember that in God’s eyes we are all one race, the human race. Regardless of any differences that we may have when “the human race succeeds, humanity succeeds” and this is the kind of equality and reconciliation we should be striving for.

Social Work and the Welfare State

As a social worker on the Hill, I have had a front row seat during battles over the welfare state. Usually, the main combatants are Republican conservatives who continue their relentless quest to reduce government’s involvement in providing for indigent Americans and Democratic progressives who believe government must be involved to ensure an adequate safety net. Conservatives want relief for the poor and disabled left to private charity. They believe citizens should not be taxed to provide welfare and other social services and should be allowed to willfully give a portion of their earnings and resources to private caregiving entities. They view the welfare state as an unlawful transfer of wealth—taking from those who worked hard to be successful and giving to people who lack the motivation and drive to do for themselves. They believe providing unemployment insurance to laid-off workers reduces their incentive to go out and find another job. They believe individual effort—personal responsibility—should be the driving force of a healthy economy.

Progressives on the other hand believe society is strongest when people work together to achieve common purposes. Jared Bernstein characterizes this debate as YOYO vs. WITT—“you’re on your own” vs. “we’re in this together”. Somehow, I believe there is more to that phrase in the Constitution’s preamble—promote the general welfare—than just providing security and an orderly society. I believe the founders had to believe in a “we’re in this together” philosophy because they knew cooperation was needed as much as competition to ensure progress. You only need to look at Congress today to understand how dysfunctional competition is without compromise.

After centuries of leaving poverty to private charity, we got the English Poor Laws. The economic crash of 1929 and the Great Depression forced the federal government to intervene in order to keep many Americans from starving. Since then we have been in this endless battle to define the parameters of the welfare state. Conservatives have been working nonstop to rollback New Deal policies. They would like to see the privatization of Social Security and the elimination of unions and other collective bargaining efforts. Progressives have been hard at work protecting safety net programs—preventing the block granting of social welfare programs, fighting against cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. All the while the economy is spiraling out of control in the favor of the wealthiest Americans. The top 0.1 percent of American families now own as much as the bottom 90 percent.

 

Inequality-Chart

Economic inequality is the mother of the modern day welfare state. Even conservatives are beginning to understand this. Arthur Brooks, president of the free enterprise promoting think tank the American Enterprise Institute, recently declared that it was time for conservatives to make peace with the welfare state—a startling comment from a hard line conservative. My guess is that he understands it is the price that must be paid for such a high level of economic inequality. In a society where income is distributed more equally, there would be a larger middle class which existed in the middle of the last century. There would be more people working because we would have more consumers with more disposable income. We would have less people needing food stamps and less people would be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

So, where should social workers stand on the welfare state? We should of course fight to ensure there is an adequate social safety net, but at the same time we should be looking for ways to reduce the number of people who depend on a social safety net which requires a more fair and equitable society—concepts that are foreign to conservatives. Those of us—social workers—who take seriously the profession’s commitment to social justice are the best hope for the poor and middle class. However, if we are not able to present a compelling vision about how we become a more just society then we will spend all of our energy trying to protect a burgeoning social welfare safety net.

Democrats lost big time in the midterm elections not because of the low voter turnout. They should not expect better results in 2016 because the composition of the electorate will be more in their favor. Democrats lost because they failed to present ideas to the American people about how progressive policies would make their lives and their children’s lives better. Had they been able to articulate a path to a more just and equitable society, voter turnout would not have been a problem.

Teaching for Change

Why are you a teacher, and what is the point of doing the job you do? Teachers really need to think about those questions and hopefully reflect beyond the surface answers of wanting to “inspire” students. I doubt any of us really got into teaching to “fill gaps in the labour market” or decided that their true passion in life was watching students fill out multiple choice tests.

For most of us, I would say that at some level we decided to be a teacher to affect change in the lives of students and the communities in which we serve. We felt a connection to a profession in which we could work with children and youth to promote qualities that may have been lacking in the world as we saw it.

change-4-1imepycHowever, for any of us that have been teaching for any length of time. you have probably seen how the inequalities of our world have impacted our students and their ability to learn. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and homophobia, amongst many more forms of oppression, infiltrate the walls of our schools and shape the real world experiences of our students.

Regardless if our students come from a place of privilege or oppression, these issues impact our classrooms and challenge us to confront them to ensure that the students we care for can overcome these issues as well as not perpetuate them as they move from youth to adults.

For teachers, it means that we cannot be ignorant to how these issues impact education and the lives of our students. Teaching is an inherently political act as the decisions we make from choosing to ignore these issues or confronting them demonstrates to our students the attitude we should have towards the major issues of our times.

If we want our students to have a chance of following their passions in life and to take on the major social and environmental issues of our time, we need to demonstrate a sense of courageous teaching that is not afraid to speak out against the issues that impact education and our students. Teachers must act in a way that promotes the ideals we strive for that would create a more democratic and equitable world for all.

That is why it is necessary that teachers eliminate the ideas of objectivity and neutrality from their practice. As one of the greatest educators of the 20th century, Paulo Freire said, “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”. As we see governments take on more austerity measures against education systems and demonize teachers in the media, it is essential that we assert ourselves as a profession that has the power to change society.

It is my hope that if you are a teacher reading this, you will join me in embracing a radical vision of what your teaching practice and the education system you work in could be. Teachers, in partnership with their union and other ally organizations, must understand the power we can have if we understand the principles of social justice and democracy. When you signed up to be a teacher, you also signed up to advocate for your students. I hope you’ll join me, and many other teachers, advocating for a more just and equitable world free from oppression for all people.

Until that day happens, teachers must engage in the long-term struggle for justice both in and outside of their classrooms. Social justice must be a centerpiece for why we teach and we must advocate for social justice as a framework for understanding teaching and education to our elected officials, unions and all others concerned with making the world a better place.

Should Republicans Gain Control of the US Senate

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Should Republicans take control of the United States Senate there will be many political pundits faulting Democrats for their inability to get black voters to go the polls. Why won’t black voters go to the polls in large numbers? Well, it’s a non-presidential election which typically leads to low voter turnout by the party in the White House.

However, this year there is another subplot—black voters are disappointed with President Obama because they have been overlooked during his first six years. Former Harvard University professor Cornell West continues to be an ardent critic and excoriates the President’s record on black issues in his new book.

Dr. West and others point to efforts made by President Obama on behalf of other voting blocs. They rail about what he’s done for gays and lesbians because of his support for gay marriage and the significant legal battles won in recent years. However, the President’s support for same sex marriage was rather tepid during his first term in office. Some say he’s done more for Latinos with his commitment to immigration reform and his executive actions on behalf of Dreamers.

Yet, he passed on any further executive action and the numbers of immigrant deportees remain significantly high. It’s difficult to make the case that President Obama has completely ignored the concerns of black Americans with the aggressive actions taken on their behalf by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department on the issues of voting rights and criminal justice reform. Did not the President recently launch “My Brother’s Keeper”, an initiative for boys and men of color?

In contemplating these “what have you done for me lately” propositions, it occurred to me that social workers might have some concerns as well. How are social workers feeling about the President? What should social workers expect from President Obama? It is well documented that African Americans and Latinos voted for President Obama in large numbers in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2012, he received 71 percent of the Latino vote and 93 percent of the African American vote.

I have not found any data on the percentage of social workers who voted for President Obama, but I would believe that most social workers are progressive and that he received the majority of our votes. But we are not a large constituency, so why would Democrats care? At about three quarters of a million strong, social workers are not a voting bloc to be feared. However, with our skills at organizing and persuasion, we could easily be a force to reckon with. But right now, that’s potential.

Gay and lesbian voters have a clear agenda—equal rights, freedom to marry, and freedom from discrimination. Latinos have an agenda that is less clear but generally focused on finding a path to documentation if not citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. They have more social and economic concerns, but providing some peace of minds for millions in this country illegally is a high priority.

Likewise, the are many social and economic problems plaguing African Americans, from high unemployment, to disproportionate criminal justice involvement, to low performing schools. However, it is unclear where the President should begin. What are the priorities? What are the policy prescriptions? Someone should have been working on these before President Obama was elected.

There are many social and economic challenges awaiting the next President who just might be Hillary Clinton. Now is the time to set priorities and identify potential policy remedies. What do social workers want from the President? Which issues are most important? But understand, while the President might be willing to support our initiatives, he or she will not do all the work for us.

We must be willing to provide policy ideas, the political strategy and be willing to take the lead on getting things done. That is what lobbyists do. Of course some lobbyists are able to reinforce their agendas by spreading around money, but nothing prevents social workers from helping to draft bills and nothing stops us from working to get more sponsors.

Paid Maternity Leave: A Policy Imperative

Living in a country so focused on the reproductive behaviors of women, from contraception to abortion, it seems preposterous that despite the myriad policy imperatives that want to control women’s fertility, there is no federal policy that supports our decision to give birth by granting us paid maternity leave.

Maternity Leave in America: Where are we at?This policy gap is even more significant given that the USA is the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid maternity leave and is one of only a handful of countries globally that does not. The countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average 18 weeks of paid maternity leave. Maternity leave is a social, economic and health policy that has broad and significant impacts for individuals, families, organizations and nations.

(For reasons of brevity and simplicity I am deliberately focusing on maternity leave but it is important to note that many national and organizational ‘maternity’ leave polices are subsumed within parental policies that apply to both mothers and fathers).

Family and Medical Leave

In the USA, the primary policy related to maternity leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which puts various kinds of family-related leaves into one unpaid 3 month pot which includes leave for caring for a parent and leave for caring for an child. However, New Jersey, Rhode Island and California provide state-funded paid family and medical leave that includes pregnancy and childbirth. These policies are paid for by employee-paid payroll taxes and distributed through disability programs – with ‘disability’ being an unfortunate, if economically useful, way of categorizing pregnancy and birth.

If they do not work for one of the top law firms of the Vault 100 or a Fortune 500 corporation that competes for top talent and grant paid maternity leave to attract and retain employees, women are generally out of luck. If you are a woman with a ‘regular’ job, what do you do when you get pregnant or have just given birth? You have to take upaid leave at a time when your expenses have increased. Thus many women return to work within weeks of birth. Though some women try to continue to breastfeed, not many workplaces allow for convenient pumping and so women find themselves having to wean their infants because of workplace conditions in addition to their ‘early’ return to the paid workforce.

Many feminist activists do not want to ‘provoke’ a paid maternity leave policy because they think it makes women stand out as needing different (special) treatment than men. The fact is we are different from men and therefore need different policies related to our health and well-being. We incubate human beings for 9 months. We also have breasts that can be the sole nutritional source for infants for more than 6 months. This highly differentiates women’s parenting roles from that of males, regardless of how egalitarian a construct we may consider parenting to be.

Gender and Class Differences

In order for women to get the policies we want, we should acknowledge the difference, own the power in that difference, and demand what we need to take care of the next generation. The absence of child benefits, dearth of subsidized high-quality childcare, costly access to healthcare, low-performing public schools and high tuition costs for tertiary education are evidence of a government that talks about supporting families while neglecting the policies that would do so.

Not many women can afford to take unpaid leave and the women who work for companies were paid leave is a perk are more likely to be able to afford to take an extended leave without being paid while doing so. By making work incompatible with motherhood, women are forced to make hard choices between taking care of their children and being in the workforce, and men are forced to make this choice. Leaving the workforce because of motherhood not only reduces present income, it also limits lifetime income on which pensions are calculated while maintaining and expanding the income gap throughout the lifespan.

Our social welfare policies push poor women to work and yet social norms push middle class and wealthy women to stay home. Taking care of one’s own child should not be an economic luxury. Our economic and social policies recognize childcare as a ‘job’ only if someone other than a parent is taking care of a child. If a woman is taking care of her own child, her contribution to the economy and society is not ‘officially’ acknowledged by society at large.

For women who qualify for subsidized childcare, it is counterproductive and expensive to pay so much more money for a non-parent to care for a child while being unwilling to support a woman to take care of her own child. With regard to paid maternity leave and subsidized childcare, it is clearly not just about money, but it is about values.

The Wage Gap

Maternity leave is a key factor in the gender gap in wages and employment and in the ‘family gap’ in income that exists between women with children and women without children. Forty to fifty percent  of the gender gap income can be explained by the family gap differential due to marital and parental status among women.

The absence of paid maternity leave in the USA has been perceived by feminists and public health professionals as anti-woman, anti-child and anti-family because it does not provide income for woman post-childbirth nor does it support the 6-month breast-feeding recommendations of the American Pediatric Association.

Health Outcomes

There is no coincidence in having no paid maternity leave and the poor health outcomes we have for infants/children in this country. This is not to say that this is the only policy to blame as health policies are also significant contributors to poor health outcomes in mothers, infants and children. Policy ‘obsession’ with humans in utero do not continue once children are born.

There is little regard for comprehensive sexual health education for children and adolescence and too much attention paid to contraceptive choice and abortion. Once the child is born, our social welfare and health policies leave all but the poorest of mothers to fend on their own. The poorest women qualify for Medicaid and WIC (Women, Infants and Children). This is reflected in lack of affordable, high-quality childcare, poor performing public schools, juvenile justice facilities that are full to overflowing, low high school graduation rates and college costs that leave young adults mired in debt.

The Price of Motherhood

The price of motherhood should not be so financially challenging. Is possible women in developing nations will simply choose to opt out of the motherhood game altogether? Though the fact that American women continue to give birth at such high rates despite a social welfare net that has very large holes is a social policy paradox that is not easily understood. The demographic and economic challenges of low birthrates are not so easily fixed by social policy. Doing research on this topic for an economics class on gender and family, it was really hard to find a rationale for the resistance to paid maternity leave in the USA so I’m not sure why we are stuck in some sort of policy dark age along with universal access to health care.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In 2010, Ernst and Young was listed among the top 10 family friendly companies by Working Mother Research Institute, provides new mothers with 12 weeks paid leave and 10 weeks unpaid leave. Bank ofAmerica, which was also on the top 10, gives a paid leave to either gender of 12 weeks and allows them to take a total of 26 weeks. These organizations are profit-making institutions that would not be handing out benefits if they did not make economic sense. Getting good benefits lead to staff loyalty that reduces the costs of staff turnover. Furthermore, the costs of educating and training women get recouped over time when women are retained in the workforce.

For women who are joining the workforce, paid maternity leave should be a consideration when deciding on potential employers because the economic, social, health, personal and family benefits that result from such policies contribute much to our overall well-being and that of our families and society at large.

As is the norm in the USA, paid maternity leave is a social and health policy that is attached to employment and an employer. This leaves women at the whim of the workforce. Paid maternity leave should be a federal concern and not dependent on the whims of workplace or state policies.

Child Criminals are Victims Twice Over

The arrest of 12 and 13 year old boys for aggravated robbery and murder respectively in West Auckland a couple of weeks ago highlights a growing malaise in society. The incident itself is a tragedy for the victim and his family, but what is alarming to me is that the two offending boys are victims too — of whatever circumstances led them to offend and now, potentially, of the justice system as well.

The bi-polarity of the justice system, which recognises only victim and offender, clearly fails children in these situations. The stories of those like twelve-year-old Bailey Kurariki (NZ 2001), James Bulger’s ten-year-old killers (UK 1993) and eleven-year-old Mary Bell (UK 1968), all of whom were charged and sentenced, point toward a “punishment system” that in no way takes into consideration that these children were too young to be held solely responsible for their actions.

A system that believes kids can be guilty of violent crimes without asking, “How did they become capable of violent crimes?”, is one that lacks empathy and compassion. Having empathy and compassion for the kids does not diminish feeling for the victims. It simply acknowledges the existence of complex situations that don’t follow “victim/perpetrator” patterns.

It could be easy to decide, instead, that parents are at fault, but even this logic is too simple. What we are dealing with is the result of generations of dysfunctional family systems, poverty and inequality.

Until this dynamic is acknowledged and a new system is designed to deal with it, we will see more and more children creating victims as well as being victims of their upbringing and of the justice system.

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