March is Social Work Month and the time CRISP holds its Student Advocacy Day and Social Work Day on the Hill events. On Wednesday, March 21st at 9:00 a.m. we will be back at the National Press Club for our annual Policy and Politics Forum that will feature the work of Dr. Michael Sherraden on child development accounts.
That afternoon at 1:00 p.m., we will be at New York University’s Abramson Family Auditorium to discuss how social work can address threats to democracy as presented in Dr. Nancy MacLean’s latest book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.
In her book—a finalist for the National Book Award—the Duke historian paints a gloomy picture of how a handful of libertarians largely financed by Charles and David Koch have exerted enormous influence on our nation’s electoral politics and governance to ensure that the propertied-class’ ability to enrich itself is not constrained by majority rule. In another book well worth reading, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution Crisis: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, author Ganesh Sitaraman makes the case for a more egalitarian society positing that majority-rule democracy can only exist in a society with a strong middle class. Activities within the networks of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work are by design generating research, innovation, and policies that will strengthen the middle class by promoting social justice, reducing economic inequality and decreasing poverty.
One of the most destabilizing forces threatening democracy in the United States and abroad is growing economic disparity that has many nations—including ours—on the brink of full-fledged plutocracy. Bloomberg News reported the world’s wealthiest added $1 trillion to their fortunes in 2017—four times more than 2016. In the U.S., 159 billionaires added $315 billion to their accounts in 2017 which gave them a collective net worth of $2 trillion. Nobel Prize-winning economists Richard Thaler and Joseph Stiglitz conclude the Republican-led tax cuts will only exacerbate the imbalance.
Dr. Sherraden’s efforts to enact federal legislation to provide universal child development accounts would go a long way in ensuring future generations could avoid widespread poverty. He has been meeting with Rep. Joe Crowley’s (D-NY-14) staff to discuss re-introduction of a bill he sponsored in 2015 with a few alterations that Sherraden believes will strengthen the bill. The George Warren Brown Distinguished Professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis put his ideas in play with the 1991 book, Assets and the Poor, that provided a framework for policies that would help people escape poverty by building assets rather than continue to subsist on residual handouts.
One Grand Challenge network, Build Financial Capabilities for All, is co-led by Dr. Sherraden’s wife Margaret—who he will tell you is the most brilliant of the two. Along with co-leads Jin Huang and Julie Birkenmaier, they have assembled a talented cadre of researchers, educators, practitioners, and students who are engaged in research and policy design to foster greater financial security across the lifespan. While the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work may not be the panacea for all of society’s ills, the initiative is making valuable contributions and holds promise as the networks evolve and develop interprofessional collaborations.
As I shared in a previous post, there is a growing list of social workers and social work educators who are expanding efforts to engage and empower voters led by the likes of Terry Mizrahi, Tanya Rhodes Smith, Suzanne Pritzker, Shannon Lane, Katherine Hill and Mary Hylton. CRISP is developing leaders who will spearhead plans for Student Advocacy Day who include Allison Berkowitz, Ashley Blanchard, Bi’Anncha Andrews, and Daryl Campbell, to name a few. There is much energy and passion in the profession that is determined to resist the status quo. Will it be enough to alter the trajectory of the current administration? Perhaps at the end of the day we will conclude there is not much social work can do stem the tide, but at least we will have had the conversation and are making the effort.
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Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D
Grand Challenge is a Focus of Social Work Day on the Hill was originally published @ Charles Lewis – Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy and has been syndicated with permission.