Tag Archives: economy

An All-in-Nation: Equity is the Superior Growth Model

One of the products that PolicyLink has created as part of their All-in-Nation effort is an examination of the inadequacies of current economic models which pursue economic growth basically for its own sake, assuming, somehow, contrary to all observed fact, that increases in Gross Domestic Product will translate neatly into improvements in the well-being of individuals and communities, equitably shared.

They outline, instead, an economic growth model focused on fostering greater equity, successfully arguing that this approach is not only likely to bring real improvements to people’s lives but, also, stronger long-term prosperity across the economy, too.

I believe it is imperative that we garner momentum for this shift, if we are to reverse the tide of increasing inequality and restore the ladders of opportunity and mobility that are supposed to work, especially for young people.

And, so, I think it’s worth considering where there are roles for social work and for social workers, in articulating these priorities and, indeed, staffing a more inclusive economic growth strategy.

Here’s what I mean:

  • If rebuilding our public infrastructure is an essential part of literally constructing the foundation for economic growth, what should social workers be doing to push for these investments, particularly at the local and county level, where there’s often a bit of a power vacuum, and some engaged and informed leadership could shift the power dynamic and create some real change?
  • If creating new, good jobs is the starting point for a more democratic economy, what do social workers need to learn and understand about how business works, what it takes to support people in entrepreneurship, and how to foster the skills to help people survive in the jobs of tomorrow?
  • If galvanizing support for these investments will, indeed, take a movement, where are social workers actively leading movement building, fostering critical consciousness among clients and coworkers, implementing proven methods of community engagement, and looking to build alliances beyond the silos of their particular practices?

This isn’t a case where just doing more of what we’ve been doing, or making technical improvements to our programs, will get us anywhere close to where we need to be.

We need new metrics, new aims, and new strategies.

We need a new definition of economic ‘success’, and we need new people at the table.

And, I believe, social workers must be part of those solutions.

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Going out with a bang: Some good news to end 2012!

If you’re anything like me, you, too, are in sore need of some good news, as we head into 2013.

This year has been rough around here–a massive tax cut turned our Kansas half-a-billion dollar ending balance into deficits as far as the eye can see.

I’m buying reams of paper for my kid’s public school. Things are depressing.

But we have to gear up for the year to come. We have a lot to do and reasons to believe that we can do much.

So, a list of some good news (not exhaustive, certainly) about which we should get excited.

I’m crowdsourcing this one, because, quite honestly, my list isn’t long enough and I need some help here. Please share your good news–encouraging progress with a client, progressive policy changes I missed, social movements that we should be excited about, even just random acts of kindness worth sharing.

As we inoculate ourselves for the year to come, we can use all the good news we can get.

  • DACA Scholarships: I love it when people get it, that immigrant students are one of the best things we have going for us, and then are willing to put their money behind supporting their dreams. This rocks.
  • The economy has improved: I don’t know if it will last, and it certainly doesn’t erase the hardship, but every new job opening means an opportunity for someone who needs one, and we need to celebrate that, even while working harder to build an economy that will really work for working people.
  • $500 can mean the difference between a kid going to college or not: Think about it. Seriously. For less than the cost of a fancy new television, we can dramatically alter a student’s educational prospects, just by providing them with seed money to orient them towards college. And, hurray! Research works, too!
  • Advocacy works, and people want to help us do it better: I’ll have more next year about the findings of this report, but, for now, I’m rejoicing that there were so many successful advocacy campaigns and advocacy organizations for them to profile. Advocacy can make a difference.
  • People are still welcoming: I love Welcoming America, and I love Welcoming Week, and I love that people–teenagers and church women and city council people and librarians and business owners–are coming together to reject anti-immigrant rhetoric and build welcoming communities that are prosperous and harmonious.
  • Scholarships to assist people with mental illness in completing higher education: I have been enriched by my opportunities to learn from my students who have mental illnesses, and I am grateful for efforts to reduce some of the barriers that these potential students face in their education.
  • Half the Sky: I really, really needed that this year. Are these women the most amazing and inspiring people? Yes. Do I appreciate even more their apparent averageness, because it challenges me to do more, instead of just putting them on a pedestal? Also yes.

What else? What good news are you sitting on that you just have to share?

Why a safety net still matters

I’m giving a presentation tomorrow on the safety net–what it is, how it is threatened, and why it should matter to all of us.

If you’re in the Kansas City area, you should totally come.

Much of the presentation is evidence on what we know to be truths: the safety net has too many holes–and people are falling through; the short-term effects of the recession and the longer-term reshaping of our economy place increasing strains on the safety net; and the safety net’s reach is inadequate to cushion all those who really need it (because benefits are too meager and eligibility criteria too tight).

I trace the origins of these threats to the safety net to an overlapping set of ‘culprits’: tax cuts that erode the revenue foundation, the budget cuts we have chosen over other alternatives, the preference for privatization and block grants instead of entitlements, the recession and its exposure of the fragility of the safety net, and the overt attacks on the poor (more on that tomorrow!).

But the piece that I think may have the greatest impact on the audience is my contention that part of how we get to a better place is by celebrating the safety net and all that it does for our society.

Yes, we absolutely need to put the safety net in its proper ‘place’ in our economy. We need good jobs that pay well, and the safety net should be a place of refuge, not a way of life. No one grows up dreaming of the day when they can receive emergency food assistance.

But the safety net, when it’s structured appropriately and (critical point) funded adequately, really works.

That’s something that often gets lost in the rhetoric (from one side) about a ‘Food Stamp culture’ (what, in the world, that is, I do not know) and (from the practitioner side) complaints about the gaps and their failures.

But we cannot save that which we are always so busy complaining about.

So understanding, and, yes, celebrating, the role of the safety net is important. We know a lot more today about the impact of safety net programs, because of the Supplemental Poverty Measure. And we need to start sharing what we’ve learned.

  • Without government assistance programs, the poverty rate would have been nearly twice as high in 2010:  an estimated 28.6 percent, compared with the actual figure of 15.5 percent.  If the safety net hadn’t existed, another 40 million people would have been poor.
  • The number of young adults with private health coverage has risen by ~2.5 million because of the Affordable Care Act.
  • In 2009, the Kansas EITC returned more than $81 million to low-income Kansas taxpayers.
  • Despite increased poverty and unemployment, hunger did not increase during the recession, largely due to investments in SNAP.
  • Social Security lifts more than 20 million Americans out of poverty, including more than 128,000 seniors in Kansas and more than 1 million children nationwide.
  • Federal rental assistance programs lifted about 3 million families out of poverty in 2010.

We know, of course, that these data are only part of the equation, though. What are your stories about why the safety net matters, and what stories do you believe we need to tell, about why there should–really–be something to catch people when they inevitably fall?

Why shouldn’t he want to be a tow-truck driver?

My oldest son wants to be either an archaeologist or a tow-truck driver.

And when he gives that answer to the ubiquitous questioning of well-meaning adults, the response is almost always the same.

They nod when he says ‘archaeologist’ and laugh a bit when he talks about driving a tow truck.

It has always bothered me, the way that I cringe whenever someone jokes to a child about studying hard so that he/she won’t end up sacking groceries, or some other purportedly inferior occupation.

Because, really, who would you rather have around in a crisis–someone who can pull you out of a ditch, or someone who digs for fossils? I mean to say, what makes the former a perfectly respectable job and the latter obviously not, despite the contributions that both make to our overall society?

I don’t want Sam learning the lessons he undoubtedly absorbs from these repeated exchanges, the idea that economic status confers societal legitimacy, and that pursuit of that stature should drive his life plans.

And, so, it was with great parental, as well as policy advocate, interest that I read the part of The Spirit Level that presented evidence that children are more likely to aspire to lower-skilled work in more equal societies, because those jobs are more adequately (and accurately) valued in societies with greater equality.

And, without the stigma that attaches to jobs disdained in our highly unequal economy, kids are free to choose the occupations that seem terrific to their yet-untainted-by-inequality minds.

Like driving a big truck that can carry around big cars.

Setting aside my parental angst, there are policy reasons to care about how the next generation views its work, especially because we’ll always need tow-truck drivers.

With many of the fastest-growing industries those with comparably low wages, we have to confront our ever-increasing demand for occupations that are poorly compensated. Are we content to be a society where those who take care of us are not taken care of? Will some of these most critical jobs, then, continue to be filled by those who couldn’t make it to the truly-valued (although not always as productive) upper echelons?

Or do we want an economy, and a society, where hard work and meaningful contributions are rewarded adequately?

If so, we know how to get there: robust protection of labor laws, strong unions, progressive tax policies to finance a vibrant safety net.

And then we need to stop teaching harmful lessons to children like Sam, especially since we all claim to wish that we had careers that we chose for sheer love of the job, like the way his eyes shine when he sees those strong cranes on the back of a tow truck.

Because you could do a lot worse than to have him come to your aid on the side of the road.

We all could.

Economics of Studying Social Work: Guest Post from The Professional Intern

**Note from Melinda: I was approached for a guest post by Jesse from The Professional Intern, a blog/website written by and for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and adult education students. One of the frequent topics on the blog relates to the financial aspects of higher education, and life beyond, and I think that the resources contained here, and on the site, will be helpful for social work students and recent graduates, too, particularly given how frequently my students’ career decisions are influenced by very real financial considerations. In an ideal world, the important work that social workers do–whether 1:1 with clients or on the macro level–would be compensated so that social workers can take care of their families and pursue their individual financial goals, too. That will take reforming the incentives facing nonprofit organizations, valuing the contributions we make to society, and creating public policies accordingly. Until then, consider Jesse and his colleagues fellow travelers on the quest to “do well while doing good.” Thanks, Jesse!

People who go to school for social work aren’t in it for the money. They realize they’re facing a lifetime of being underpaid and overworked. But just because you’re never going to strike it rich doesn’t mean you have to carry a load of debt around with you.

Before you go
One of the most important decisions you can make when you’ve decided on your career path is where to go for your degree. This is one of those times when you have to be real with yourself. Going to a pricey private college may not be easy for you later if your parents aren’t helping you pay your loans. Admissions counselors will tell you that 99 percent of students will get financial aid. While that’s completely true, they often leave out the fact that this is only a few thousand on a $35,000 price tag.
A more affordable option is attending a state school. They tend to run at about $16,140 a year. With scholarships, they can often be brought down to about $10,080, according to a recent report. Scholarships will only knock private school tuition down to about $21,020.

If you need to work while you’re attending college, look into an online degree or a community college. Many state schools can also have more flexible schedules with night classes that will help you in your quest to do it all.

Once you’re there
Student loans can often be used for any educational expense. This can be stretched easily to include some things that you might not actually need, so it’s one of those times that we have to apply the advice we often give to others–how should we prioritize our budgets?–to our own financial decisions. Remember that you’ll have to pay this money back sooner than you’d think.

On that note, any money you take from your technical loan money should be repaid by the time you graduate. If you have loans that charge interest, pay those back immediately. For the loans that don’t accrue interest, go ahead and put the money in a savings account that you can’t access through a bank card. If you need extra help ensuring you don’t spend it, ask your parents to put their names on your account and require that you all be there to remove it.

Consider signing up for AmeriCorps if there is a program in your area (or another, similar service program). AmeriCorps is a government-funded program that allows people to give back to their community in various ways. In return for your service, you receive a living stipend. Upon completion of the program, you also receive an education award, which can be applied directly to tuition costs or loans. Depending on the amount of hours you put into the program, you could end up with a couple of thousand dollars on top of your living stipend. It’s best to do the AmeriCorps program as an internship, since it will take a considerable time commitment. Many of the projects that members can sign up for are directly related to social work and can provide valuable experience along with the much-needed money.

And now, the fun part
The fun, of course, comes from having your degree. If you’re unable to find a job right out of college, take one that you can find and continue searching hard for a job in your field (ML: again–the same advice social workers often give our clients!). With the economy the way it is, even low-paying jobs are sometimes hard-to-find. In the meantime, call your loan provider and see when you’ll need to start paying back your loans. Most have a waiting period of about six months. If you graduate in May, your first payments will begin around December. You can usually find out everything you need to know by going to their website and digging around. However, if you call you will get an opportunity to talk to real people who know your situation and can help. Memorizing the number might be the most important step you can take.

If you have trouble paying back your loans, here are some options you can take.
• Defer your loans:
Deferring your loans is the first step you should take when you lose your job or can’t make payments on a low salary. All it takes is a call to your loan provider and a short explanation of why you need a deferment. You only have a set number of these to go through though, so be sure you’re using them only when absolutely necessary.
• Extend your payback period:
If your loans exceed a certain amount, your payback period may be eligible to be extended. Remember that this will make it harder to buy a home and a new car later on down the road, since you’ll have more money already tied up in loans. The amount you currently owe back is also reflected in your credit score, so be sure to check and see how much it’s affecting you before you extend it another 5-10 years. The average loan’s standard payback period is 10 years, but can go up to 15-20 if you meet the requirements.
• Consolidate your loans:
In the funny loan world, you can have two separate loans from the same provider, both due separately. If you find this has happened to you, simply call your loan provider to ask them to be combined.
• Check the time of month:
If rent is due the same week as your student loans, most companies will allow you to switch the due date. Remember that it will take a month or so to go in effect, so don’t think you can use this to get a couple weeks of free deferment.
With all of these options available, you should be able to manage loan repayment on even the tiniest salary. Remember to also list the amount you’ve paid towards them on your taxes, as some of that money will be tax deductible. Be proactive about your loans, and you’ll be able to stay on top of them.

Does anyone else have advice to share? Recent graduates, what are you encountering in the job market, and what has worked for you? Those with longer tenures in the working world, what has this perspective taught you that you wish you’d known before?