Social workers have spearheaded many of the social reforms of the last century and a half, and they continue to advocate for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed in our society today, including the basic rights to housing, health care, education, food and safety. The challenges today’s social workers face concern issues of child welfare, affordable housing, poverty and health care, as well as racism, sexism and discrimination leveled against the LGBT community. These issues only become more challenging as social workers struggle to “do more with less” and provide their services in spite of budget cuts and dwindling resources. Visit this site to learn more about how an online Master of Social Work illuminates the issues facing social workers today.
The Ongoing Poverty Problem
As of 2012, 46.5 million Americans live in poverty. Factors that contribute to the ongoing poverty crisis include low wages, scarce jobs and inadequate social safety nets. Many people who live in poverty work but fail to make ends meet. Chronic deprivation is linked to self-destructive behaviors, like self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or failing to practice proper self-care. It’s also linked to destructive behaviors toward others; poverty is a major cause of violence and crime.
America’s Child Welfare Crisis
Child welfare is one of the biggest challenges social workers face today, partially because children are powerless to advocate for themselves. Three million cases of mistreatment of children are reported in this country every year, but experts believe that for every case of child mistreatment reported, two more go unreported. Forty-five percent of children live in low-income families, and 22 percent — 16 million children — live in poverty in America. Poverty is closely linked to child abuse and neglect. Racism, sexism and homophobia also contribute to the conditions that leave children in poverty or vulnerable to neglect and abuse.
Shortage of Affordable Housing
More than 633,000 Americans are homeless, and about 20 percent of them are chronically homeless. Housing in America is expensive — one in three people spends more than 30 percent of his or her income on housing, and one in eight spends more than 50 percent. Public housing units are often crowded, old or structurally unsound and new units aren’t being built fast enough; in 2011, just 6.8 million units were allocated for 12.1 million low-income renters. Each year, an additional 10,000 public housing units are lost from lack of funds to keep them in good repair.
Health Care Reform
Thanks to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the addition of large numbers of retiring Baby Boomers to the Medicare rolls, more people have health insurance in American than ever before; only 48 million Americans currently do not have health insurance. Nine million Americans living in poverty are expected to gain insurance from the Medicaid expansion slated to take effect in 2014. In 2012, 24.9 percent of households making less than $25,000 per year did not have health insurance; 12.9 percent of children living in poverty did not have it, compared to 7.7 percent of children not living in poverty.
How Are Social Workers Addressing Social Problems?
Social workers help people gain access to public services and give them the tools and resources they need to help themselves and improve their own lives. These tools and resources can include access to education, counseling and medical care in and out of the home. While many social workers work with individuals or families, others work with organizations or entire communities.
Budget cuts and dwindling resources are forcing many social workers to work on both the micro (individual or family) level and the macro (organizational or community) level. Social workers are also forced to open and maintain dialogues with law and policymakers to communicate and justify their funding needs. Some social workers may go into policy work to try to expand social services programs and options for people in need.
Just as they always have, social workers today face a range of issues, including increasing poverty, child welfare issues, a housing shortage and a health care shortage. Social workers try to help those in need by increasing access to social welfare programs, education, counseling and other tools that empower the disenfranchised and marginalized to work toward better lives. Many social workers are working harder than ever to help growing numbers of people.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Erin Reamer holds a Master of Social Work and has more than 15 years of experience in the field.