This article discusses the African American social welfare system that began to develop during the early 20th century. This social welfare system, designed by African Americans to serve African Americans, addressed needs that were not being met by any other formal social services while the nascent social work profession was emerging. The myriad programs included settlement houses, boys and girls programs, training schools, and day nurseries. The women’s club movement played a critical role in the development of this social welfare system and provided much of the impetus for change and inclusion. Through formal organizations, including the National Urban League (NUL) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and an array of clubs and social groups, social services were extended to urban and rural communities throughout the United States.
African American Social Welfare History
African Americans Overview
Larry E. Davis, Trina R. Williams Shanks, and John M. Wallace Jr.
Since their arrival 400 years ago, African Americans have endured 246 years of chattel slavery and 100 years of apartheid followed by decades of systematic racial discrimination and injustice. Nevertheless, Africans and their descendants have contributed significantly to the building of the United States and have greatly influenced every sector of society. To document this tenuous position, we summarize key demographic, economic, and social trends as well as the potential role of macro social work to improve outcomes. Present-day racism in the United States is persistent and frequently underestimated, so combatting anti-Blackness and White supremacy at structural and societal levels is essential.
Lisa A. Ferretti and Philip McCallion
Growth in the aging population and increasing concerns in terms of health issues and financial and caregiving challenges among older adults are well established. Historically, the Older Americans Act has provided the delivery structure and services for older adults in need. Agencies within these structures have also engaged with housing and health care providers and funders. The structures and relationships are not adequate to support the desires of older adults for self-determination and aging in place and remain too treatment oriented rather than preventative and supportive in focus. Macro social work must engage in building aging structures, services, communities, and resources more fit for changing purposes.
United States Social Security System
Eric R. Kingson and Nancy J. Altman
Social Security—the American people’s most important insurance—does more to maintain living standards and prevent poverty than any other social welfare policy or program, public or private. This entry discusses why our nation’s Social Security system was built, what it does, how it evolved and how it continues to do so. Contemporary challenges and related policy options are identified regarding program financing and the public’s need for expanded protections—retirement, disability, survivorship, paid family leave, and paid sick leave, among other protections. The analysis highlights messaging and political strategies used by those seeking to diminish the role of Social Security and those seeking to expand its protections. The entry suggests that the values and objectives of the American Social Security system comport well with social-work; and that both opportunity and need exist for social workers to shape Social Security’s future through application of policy analysis, advocacy, organizing and administrative skills.
Reducing "Extreme Economic Inequality": A Social Work Grand Challenge
Laura Lein, Jennifer Romich, Trina R. Williams Shanks, and Dominique Crump
The Social Work Grand Challenge to reduce economic inequality is one of 13 Grand Challenges guiding future practice, research, and education. This article on the Grand Challenge to reduce extreme economic inequality documents the problem, probes the mechanisms by which inequality continues and deepens, and proposes approaches for addressing this problem so interwoven into our economy and society. This article describes economic inequality in the U.S. context as well as social work–oriented responses. It briefly compares the inequality level of the U.S. with that of other countries. It explores the distinctions between poverty and economic inequality and the particular ways in which economic inequality is maintained and grows in the U.S. It also explores the kinds of policy and program initiatives addressing this grand challenge, the barriers to and potential benefits of such ideas, and the roles for social workers and the social work profession in reducing extreme economic inequality in our society.
Asset Building: Toward Inclusive Policy
Michael Sherraden, Lissa Johnson, Margaret M. Clancy, Sondra G. Beverly, Margaret Sherrard Sherraden, Mark Schreiner, William Elliott, Trina R. Williams Shanks, Deborah Adams, Jami Curley, Jin Huang, Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Yunju Nam, Min Zhan, and Chang-Keun Han
Since 1991, a new policy discussion has arisen in the United States and other countries, focusing on building assets as a complement to traditional social policy based on income. In fact, asset-based policy with large public subsidies already existed (and still exists) in the United States. But the policy is regressive, benefiting the rich far more than the poor. The goal should be a universal, progressive, and lifelong asset-based policy. One promising pathway may be child development accounts (CDAs) beginning at birth, with greater public deposits for the poorest children. If all children had an account, then eventually this could grow into a universal public policy across the life course.
Attaining Sustainable Development Goals
At its 2015 General Assembly, the United Nations formulated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to emergize its Member nations and social workers practicing in these countries to engage in environmentally sustainable social and economic development leaving no one behind. At the core of SDGs is the conviction that protecting planet Earth is possible by working collectively and ensuring that all human beings are able to realize their full potentials. The charges include solving a wide range of environmental, economic, and social problems including poverty, hunger, violence, and discrimination by 2030. The SDGs are inclusive of all people; they have galvanized all Member countries and their policy makers and practitioners, including social workers, to strive toward the common goals. Progress has been made from previous initiatives, but there are still challenges ahead. The first five SDGs are particularly relevant to social workers, who have an important role to play in alleviating poverty, promoting health and education, and empowering women and girls.
Climate Change and Macro Social Work
The compounding and escalating effects of environmental degradation, which include climate change, threaten the human-earth system with severe implications for the future of macro social work. Systems of power and oppression, including racial, economic, and gendered inequities, are exacerbated by environmental changes with significant impacts on human rights, public health, and various measures of well-being. While climate change is often not the root cause of inequality, it compounds existing inequities, making it substantially more difficult for marginalized populations to rebound from escalations of the myriad acute and chronic consequences due to climate change and environmental collapse. Experiences of environmental change consistently highlight the expanding resource and resiliency gaps among vulnerable populations, leading to disproportionate repercussions felt initially and, to an arduous degree, by marginalized groups. Simultaneously, these circumstances create opportunities for social workers to intervene and advance the causes of social justice. Macro-level interventions and climate solutions can emerge from social work development and support of policies and interventions that overcome short-term thinking to produce beneficial outcomes for populations and the environment by building capacity in the human-earth system and economic policy systems. Social work is ideally situated to confront climate change by balancing immediate needs with long-term ecological sustainability and relying on its historical understanding of systems to improve policy development and practical climate change mitigation approaches.
Community Economic Development
Steven D. Soifer and Joseph B. McNeely
The basic concepts and history of community economic development (CED) span from the 1960s to the present, during which there have been four different waves of CED. During this time period, practitioners in the field have worked with limited resources to help rebuild low-to-moderate-income communities in the United States. There are particular values, theories, strategies, tactics, and programs used to bring about change at the community level. The accomplishments in the CED field are many, and social workers have played a role in helping with community building at the neighborhood, city, county, state and federal levels.
Disparities and Inequalities: An Overview
Hyejin Jung and King Davis
This entry presents an overview of disparities and inequalities. Disparity is defined as measurable differences between individuals, groups, races, regions, states, or nations. The frequency and severity of disparities distinguish groups by multiple identifiable characteristics. In the United States, minority populations have historically ranked higher in prevalence and incidence than others on most disparity indices. In many nations, at-risk groups are distinguished by historically high rates of disparities. Although the level of adverse conditions has declined in the United States and abroad, troublesome disparities exist in nations torn by war, disagreements, disputes, tribal differences, and dictatorial leaders. The major disparity indices include excess mortality rates from infectious diseases like COVID-19, poor health, poverty, unemployment, limited access to fresh and affordable food, absence of health care, absence of potable water, violence, and substandard housing. It is assumed that populations do not voluntarily choose these disparate conditions or cause them through personal deficits. The historical persistence of disparities and inequalities over decades is indicative of systemic or structural causation. This entry contributes to the historical, theoretical, and evidentiary base of macro social work practices that focus on changes in policies, leadership, planning, resource distribution, agency processes and functions, network development, organizations, lobbying, and communities.
Disproportionality and Disparities
Rowena Fong, Ruth G. McRoy, and Alan Dettlaff
Racial disproportionality and disparities are problems affecting children and families of color in the child welfare, juvenile justice, education, mental-health, and health-care systems. The term “disproportionality” refers to the ratio between the percentage of persons in a particular racial or ethnic group at a particular decision point or experiencing an event (maltreatment, incarceration, school dropouts) compared to the percentage of the same racial or ethnic group in the overall population. This ratio could suggest underrepresentation, proportional representation, or overrepresentation of a population experiencing a particular phenomenon. The term “disparity” refers to “unequal treatment or outcomes for different groups in the same circumstance or at the same decision point.” A close examination of disproportionality and disparities brings attention to differences in outcomes, often by racial group, and by social service systems. It is necessary to examine the reasons for these differences in outcomes and to be sure that culturally competent practices are upheld.
Early Childhood Home Visiting
Melissa Lim Brodowski, Jacqueline Counts, and Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner
This chapter provides an overview of early-childhood home-visiting programs and offers a brief summary of the research, policy, and practice issues. The first section defines home visiting and the funding available to support it. The next section summarizes common characteristics of home-visiting programs and describes the features of several evidence-based home-visiting programs. The outcomes from home visiting for parents and children, including relevant cost-benefit studies, are briefly reviewed. The chapter concludes with implementation issues and future directions for home visiting.
Earned Income Tax Credit
Melinda Lewis and Sondra G. Beverly
The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for working families with low and moderate incomes. The credit provides a substantial income supplement to families with children and thus helps families finance basic necessities or invest in longer-term household development. In recent years, political support for the EITC has declined. Social workers should be prepared to advocate against policy changes that would reduce the impact of the EITC. Social workers could also support EITC outreach campaigns and advocate for more and expanded state EITCs.
Social work often refers to economic justice but rarely considers what economic justice truly entails. This article discusses the rationale for social workers to be knowledgeable of and involved with economic justice initiatives. It specifies several areas that comprise an economic justice agenda. Examples of advocacy and organizations which lead the campaigns are discussed. Six realms of economic justice are discussed: Inequality, workplace rights, living wage levels and minimum wages, immigrant rights in the workplace, community–labor partnerships, and social programs that support working families and individuals.
Economic Security and Family Well-Being
Robert Cosby and Janice Berry-Edwards
Economic security and family well-being remain important issues for communities and for social workers, particularly during economic downturns. Workers in industries such as restaurants, hotels, healthcare, and communications were dramatically affected by the spread of the COVID-19 virus in 2020 and 2021 in the United States. Companies have struggled, many closing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those with significant economic capital and potential for growth during this time experienced huge growth opportunities in wealth, but not all. At the same time there were significant racial disparities associated with COVID-19, including disparate access to medical services. Social workers can benefit from understanding the complex issues associated with economic insecurity. The impact of economic insecurity among individuals, families, and communities can ravage their physical, emotional, and mental well-being, and understanding how macro, mezzo, and micro dynamics affect individual and family quality of life is paramount for social workers.
Employment and Unemployment
Different types of employment and unemployment are defined and the measurement of these concepts is illustrated. Unemployment trends among different groups in the United States are described and competing theories of the causes of unemployment are explained. Finally, policies relating to employment, including those focusing on labor supply, labor demand, and labor regulation, are discussed.
Energy Poverty in India
Praveen Kumar, Smitha Rao, and Gautam N. Yadama
Energy poverty is lack of access to adequate, high-quality, clean, and affordable forms of energy or energy systems. It is a prominent risk factor for global burden of disease and has severe environmental, social, and economic implications. Despite recent international attention to address energy for the poor, there is a limited consensus over a unified framework defining energy poverty, which impacts almost 2.8 billion mostly poor people, especially in Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the largest number of energy poor. India, in South Asia, comprises a significant proportion of energy-impoverished households. There is a continued effort by the Indian government, non-profit agencies, and private organizations to address the needs of energy poor. Social workers have a significant role to play in these interventions addressing energy poverty in India. Emerging research and practice in the energy poverty field in India calls for transdisciplinary collaboration especially between social work practitioners of community development, environmental health, public health, and social policy.
Margaret Sherrard Sherraden, Jin Huang, and David Ansong
In a context of financial insecurity and inequality, exacerbated by a global pandemic in which many people are struggling to survive, financial capability has become increasingly important. Financial capability combines the ability to act with the opportunity to act in ways that contribute to financial well-being. Improving financial capability requires improved lifelong access to appropriate and beneficial policies, financial products, and services, along with financial education and guidance. Historically, social work played a key role in building financial capability through interventions in households, organizations, communities, and policies. In the 21st century, despite significant developments, social workers must do more to eliminate systemic and persistent economic, racial, and political barriers to financial well-being.
Financial Inclusion and Financial Access
Julie Birkenmaier, Mathieu Despard, Terri Friedline, and Jin Huang
Financial inclusion, the goal of financial access, broadly refers to the ability of all people in a society to access and be empowered to use safe, affordable, relevant, and convenient financial products and services for achieving their goals. Financial inclusion promotes household and societal financial well-being and requires access to an array of financial products and services such as savings accounts, credit cards, mortgage and small business loans, and small-dollar consumer loans. Despite the advantages, too many individuals and households lack financial inclusion and access by being unbanked, underbanked, and/or they are forced to use alternative financial services. Achieving financial inclusion will require participation from many different types of formal financial institutional actors, such as banks, credit unions, community development financial institutions, and national credit bureaus. Social work assists to build financial inclusion and access through practice innovations, research, and policy advocacy.
Maryah Stella Fram
This entry provides an overview of current knowledge and thinking about the nature, causes, and consequences of food insecurity as well as information about the major policies and programs aimed at alleviating food insecurity in the United States. Food insecurity is considered at the nexus of person and environment, with discussion focusing on the biological, psychological, social, and economic factors that are interwoven with people’s access to and utilization of food. The diversity of experiences of food insecurity is addressed, with attention to issues of age, gender, culture, and community context. Finally, implications for social work professionals are suggested.