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Poverty

When the Hope of a Social Worker is Gone

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Social Workers go where no other profession goes, and our primary job is to give hope to the hopeless. What happens when the hope of a Social Worker is gone? Social Workers don’t usually receive press unless a child dies or some sort of malfeasance occurs, but this is not the media’s fault. It’s the social worker’s responsibility to advocate and create opportunities to influence discussions occurring in the media. However, when an opportunity arises for a social worker to use a media platform to educate and inform, it often results in a missed opportunity. Instead, the megaphone is used to blame each other or shame the client for being poor, uneducated, homeless, and/or drug addicted.

In February 2013, Vice.com, an online magazine, printed an interview with a young social worker entitled, “Social Work in the Tenderloin Will Kill Something Inside of You”. This article stirred a lot of reaction from the social work community. The magazine had to redact items and pictures from the original article which could have been a breach of confidentiality by the social worker who was the source for the article. However, I read the article in its redacted form.

The social worker described clients as having poor hygiene, not wanting to work, and drug addicted while relying on government assistance. Here is an excerpt:

Twenty messages from the same two or three clients who either scream their financial requests over and over, simply sit there and breathe, or tell you that witches are under their beds waiting for the next blood sacrifice. Paranoid clients like to fixate on witches, Satan, etc. Anyway, we get ready to open and hand out checks to the clients who are either on daily budgets, or who make random check requests. The budgeted clients are the most low-functioning, as they can be restricted to as little as $7 per day in order to curb their harm reduction. They’ll go and spend that $7 on whatever piece of crack they can find, and then two hours later they’re back, begging for more money. Clients will find some really brilliant ways to beg.

Has anyone seen Les Miserables?  The scene described above is just a modern day retelling except, today, government assistance provides enough of a morsel to keep poor people under control. In Les Miserables, poverty and disease drove people to rob the rich in order to have a decent meal or a comfortable place to lay their head. Poverty and starvation was the driving force behind the French Revolution. As a cautionary tale to all our government officials that want to cut needed social safety programs, education, and preventive services, you might want to rethink instituting austerity measures.

TiredAs for the burnt out social worker who did the above interview, I understand feeling burnout and being frustrated with clients. However, my client frustration was exacerbated by the poor work conditions and poor supervision that is often encountered while working in a social service agency. These agencies are poorly structured, lack checks and balances, and accountability with a poor grievance process for both the client and employee. If you have a complaint, there is no one to complain too.

They do not require accreditation standards like hospitals, schools, and law enforcement agencies. Yet, social workers are given statutory authority to make decisions that can affect a child’s life for the rest of their life. If a child dies, the social worker often gets the blame, but the Agency should vicariously be held liable. The job is set up for the social worker to fail from lack of resources, support, failure to institute minimum standards and training, and lack of nationwide paperless system.

Ninety percent of my time in Child Protective Services was spent doing paper work, and I had 10% left to handle a caseload of at least 15 families. Holy crap is the only writable term I can think of to express the increase in my caseload when each family had 3 to 5 kids often not in the same household or the same school.  Can you imagine trying to see all the kids and parents twice a month for medium to low risk and once a week for high risk? It is impossible to do your job correctly and being effective is not even a possibility under the poor work conditions and impossible standards. You are basically providing triage care which creates recidivism. There were many days I cried after work, so I opted for the anti-depressant to help me survive each work day.

Almost all of my co-workers were women who had therapists themselves, on some type of anti-depressant, and self-reported chronic health issues in which I believe were stress related. After dealing with the stress of work, many had their own families to take care of after leaving work. I learned a long time ago not to blame my client because one day I could be in their shoes. I am not saying that you need to be poor or experience oppression to serve others. However, if you lack the understanding of oppression and the ability to have compassion, social work is not the right job for you. For those social workers who do have the requisite skill set, many can attest to the horrible work conditions that is endured while trying to give hope to the hopeless.

Many social workers live in fear of losing their jobs on a daily basis because one mistake could cost your career and/or someone’s life. Once an administrator or supervisor status is achieved, there is very little turn over from supervisory positions. They no longer deal directly with the clients, and they are often protected by governmental immunity even if their supervision result in malfeasance.

In the United States, many direct practice social workers in the public sector are not supported by the National Association of Social Workers either because they may not have a social work degree or a clinical license. The National Association of Social Workers is pushing to prevent any social worker, with a social work degree or not, who does not have a clinical license from using the social work title. I completely disagree with this strategy because a clinical license should not be required for entry level positions that are not providing treatment. Many public sector social workers feel isolated and unsupported which is why so many leave the profession or turn into the burnt out social worker. Most Child Welfare social workers do not even know what the Child Welfare League of America does or who they serve. If not for the States who have unions, human services may not have any organizations advocating for their betterment.

Someone has to advocate for system changes, and someone has to hold membership associations accountable to their mission of uplifting and supporting social workers. If social workers are not meeting desired educational standards, what are we doing to identify the barriers and challenges preventing those standards from being met?

I understand the views I have expressed may not be accepted by main stream social work professionals. However, macro and public sector social workers are the minority in management and policy making positions despite being the majority of those in traditional social work roles.  Policy making positions are routinely held by clinical social workers or Phd’s who have only been in academia or providing individual/family counseling services.

Many social work change agents are undervalued and often overlooked because most can’t afford to spend over 100,000 dollars to obtain a social work graduate degree to work in a $35,000 to 45,000 dollar a year entry level job at a public agency. Unless you are privileged and money is not a concern, a social work advance degree is less accessible. By accepting  students primarily from privileged backgrounds, the social work landscape has moved away from social justice issues and traditional social work roles to an increasingly conservative ideology that ignores the challenges and barriers placed on vulnerable populations created by legislative and administrative policies.

We also conducted a live twitter chat on this topic  with the social work twitter community using the hashtag #SWunited. To view the tweet archive,  go to this link: http://storify.com/SWUnited/social-work-in-the-tenderloin

Some may have strong opinions about my assessment on the current state of the profession.  However, strong opinions are sometimes needed in order to start the conversation, and  I am ready to have the conversation if you are. If anyone has any thoughts on this article, I would love to hear them. There were several rebuttal articles and lots of tweets in response to Vice’s Tenderloin story. I will attach them all for you to read in order to come to your own conclusion.

Also View:
Social Work in the Tenderloin Will Kill Something Inside of You
Social Work in the Tenderloin is Not Hopeless

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

13 Comments
Charlene Richard says:

You Ladies Rock! My passion in life is to talk about the occupational hazards of the helping profession and to provide supports and programs for people who are experiencing Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.

I talk about it almost everyday at work – in an effort to normalize it and make others feel comfortable to discuss it as well. It’s working. No fear. No Shame. I hope others reading this will start to talk about it with colleagues as well.

Charlene

Charlene Richard says:

I have a feeling that Social Workers are born with extra big hearts – it’s why we got into the field. It also sets us up for putting our needs aside to take care of others and this is where organizations take advantage. In the end it isn’t good for anyone. A couple of months ago I said “no” to a request to take on another program. It was sooooo hard to say no, but I explained myself from a Compassion Fatigue awareness point of view and my manager completely understood. I know that she is not the norm, but it felt really good to stand up for my health (and the health of my current clients).

I hope the more we talk about it and the more we bring it up at work, that we will be more supported and less likely to leave the job or go on medical disability to get away from the stress.

Good for you making yourself and your family a priority!:)

Charlene Richard says:

Exactly, it’s scary that is can be misdiagnosed as Depression or Anxiety and treated that way. It’s so much easier to prevent it from the beginning that to recover – it took me a long time to get from near burnout to staying healthy as a Social Worker in Addictions and Mental Health, would have been much easier if my BSW program had told me about it.

Charlene Richard says:

I completely agree about joint efforts. We as Social Workers need to keep the discussion going and organizations need to recognize the impact and incorporate some of the protective factors (flexible scheduling, clinical supervision, professional development, education on vicarious trauma, etc.).

I’m so happy to hear that your school discussed CF. Where did you go, if you don’t mind me asking?

Rachel West says:

I agree with the idea that there is stigma about burnout among social workers. I think schools of social work are starting to address compassion fatigue, at least my program did. However there seems to be some tabo within the profession about admitting to experiencing it. There are some who if you tell them about feeling burned out will tell you to change careers or will make you feel like you are not competent at your job because you are experiencing fatigue.

I don’t see agencies all that concerned with preventing burnout or assisting those experiencing it. I feel strongly that it needs to be a duel effort on the employer and employees part. Yes we need to be responsible for ourselves but the agencies need to acknowledge and take responsibility for the role they play in placing unreasonable demands on their workforce. I understand there are budget constraints but there are low cost ways for them to create a more supportive environment.

SWhelper says:

Yes, it does….sometimes you don’t know that it is happening it happens. We need more education in this area.

Politicalsocialworker says:

I think that The Think Tank should have a campaign around this issue. That is something where are lot of SW would sign on for.

I am hoping that writing about these issues will open up the lines of communication with NASW to help be apart of the solution.

TMart, you hit on it the head. I was going to add the Anonymous SW to the also view, but I see that you have been making some changes. Yes, I didn’t even go into the horrors of how parents are being affected. Thank you for addressing that.

T Mart says:

I understand how frustrating it can be. On a state or county level, SW are responsible for the lives of children, while trying to build a case against their parents for termination. When I held that position, I was amazed how easy it was to terminate parental rights. My first case was devastating. A mother I barely knew, despite her drug addiction, would never set eyes on her infant again. That’s a chilling feeling. I am not advocating for abusive and neglectful parents, but I also believe that the expectations of the court system ensures the failure of natural parents. Addiction is a disease that a person faces every single day of their lives. It is unrealistic to expect an addict to get clean in 6 to 12 months before their rights are permanently severed.

Getting back on track; the responsibility of another’s life left on your shoulders is an honorable job. However, when you have thirty to sixty lives resting on your shoulders, its inevitable that you will buckle under the pressure. Social workers suffer depression, anxiety, and are often struggling to make it home on time to their families. At the end of the day, you ask yourself, is it really worth my sanity? Is it really worth neglecting my own children, to protect another’s? I may upset some social workers when I say this, but he** no. I whole heartily care for abused and neglected children, but there has to be a limit to the madness. Social workers are often paid just below the poverty line and are expected to drive their own cars (depending on which state you work in) and the reimbursement for mileage is pitiful and fails to match the cost of miles on your car, or the gas that you use to conduct home visits. It may seem like I’m complaining, and I am, but for good reason. The government claims to care about the lives of children and yet, they refuse to provide the resources for social workers to effectively carry out their duties.

My previous perception of the foster care system was that there were different levels of child protection. You have the state and county SW, and then you had the FFA social workers, and then there are the hospital social workers (who make a good wage). I had always wanted to work at an FFA, where there were lower case loads and the opportunity to be apart of a smaller team. Well, I got my wish, and found that the smaller private agencies were just as ruthless as the government agencies. Politics is constantly circulating throughout the office, and the sinister tactics in which to gain more power. (sigh) When I first accepted this job, they advertised stability and flexibility, but in the end, I found that FFAs have high turn over, a fact that I wasn’t privy to before accepting the position. The point of my long-windedness (I don’t think this is a word but it will do), is the fact that social workers are ready and willing to go the extra mile, but those that hire us and responsible for advocating for us are not willing to reciprocate. There is no support for many social workers, and it should be addressed on a larger scale.

Politicalsocialworker says:

Great article and I agree with much of what you wrote. I feel like agencies and the NASW get a pass when it comes to dealing with issues that lead to burn out.

Burn out doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are factors that cause it and our employers should be and could be doing more to help. Furthermore, the NASW should be doing more to improve work conditions for social workers.

Instead I find that it is the individual worker who is often left to deal with the stress alone with little to no support from the agency. There are steps an employer can take that would cost nothing (or next to nothing) that would help providers cope. For example something as simple as having a support group for staff could go along way.

The NASW should be advocating on behalf of public sector social workers by focusing on case loads and paperwork redundancies. Outside of licensing it appears they have no interest in what is happening inside the workplace.

News

Changing the Lens on Poverty Research

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Using an innovative technique to measure poverty, a Georgia Institute of Technology economics professor has found that more older Americans live in deprivation than official statistics suggest.

Shatakshee Dhongde, associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, found that 12.27 percent of senior citizens were deprived in two or more crucial areas, including multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.

Dhongde said the research illustrates a shortcoming in the official measure of poverty in the United States, which focuses solely on income. The federal government reported that 9.5 percent of older Americans were living in poverty in 2013. That is below the 12.3 percent rate found in Dhondge’s multidimensional poverty index.

Research Reveals Deprivation beyond Official Poverty Count

According to Dhongde’s research, nearly four in ten older U.S. residents reported being deprived in at least one of the four categories: multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.

Moreover, many of those living with multiple deprivations were not income poor. For instance, 3.6 percent of seniors experienced both multiple disabilities and severe housing burden, but would not appear in official poverty statistics because their income was above poverty line threshold.

Race plays a role, as well. Dhongde found that white senior citizens were less likely to be deprived, while Asian, African-American, and Hispanic seniors were more likely to be deprived. In fact, Dhongde found that 30 percent of Hispanic seniors were deprived in two or more dimensions.

Study Relies on Census Data

The study draws on the 2013 edition of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which includes detailed data on economic, housing, educational, and healthcare circumstances of people living in the United States.

Dhongde, a faculty member in the School of Economics within the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, is in the vanguard of economic researchers examining multidimensional deprivation in the United States. Thinking of deprivation in a multidimensional manner is a way of looking beyond income while measuring poverty.

“The main idea is that you change the lens and look at overlapping deprivations,” she said. “So I’m not separately looking at what percent of the elderly population was deprived in X and what percent was deprived in Y and so on. Instead, I choose one individual and then analyze how many deprivations he or she is facing simultaneously.”

By examining multiple areas that can affect a person’s quality of life, Dhongde says the multidimensional poverty index can provide better insight into the population’s broader economic condition. It can also give policymakers tools to gauge where best to focus limited resources.

Multidimensional Analysis Gains Traction

The research follows up on a groundbreaking 2017 paper that Dhongde co-authored with Robert Havemen of the Institute of Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In that paper, Dhongde and Haveman showed that during the “Great Recession” which gripped the United States economy from 2008 to 2013, nearly 15 percent of working-age U.S. residents were deprived in at least two of the measures.

Most of those in the study who were multidimensionally deprived were low-income earners whose incomes exceeded the poverty line.

That paper was the first in the United States to take a comprehensive look at multidimensional poverty at a national level, but similar techniques are taking hold internationally.

The United Nations has used a similar approach in measuring poverty since 2010. The European Union has also adopted a multidimensional approach. The United States government, however, still assessed poverty largely using income data alone.

Dhongde said that her latest research suggests avenues for policymakers to approach quality-of-life issues and health care costs among the nation’s growing elderly population.

For instance, her research shows that people with little education are more likely to have health issues. This suggests that policy makers could address literacy as a way to help people make better health choices — and hold down the spiraling cost of health care.

New Areas of Study to include Transportation

Dhongde is now working to extend the research model to other fields that could benefit from such analysis.

She is currently working with Laurie Garrow, a professor of transportation systems engineering in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Garrow is interested in developing a transportation deprivation index to help guide transit decisions — particularly in rural areas.

“As transportation engineers, we have regulatory requirements to ensure we are designing public transportation systems in ways that are fair and equitable for all individuals,” Garrow said.” By better understanding how transit dependency characteristics, such as income, employment, disabilities, etc., are related and how these characteristics are spatially distributed, we can design public transit services to better meet individuals’ needs.”

Dhongde said such a tool might use data sets to produce a comprehensive evaluation of transportation factors such as access to private cars, availability of mass transit, and even how often public transportation is available, and how far people have to travel to get groceries or go to school.

Dhongde’s new research appears in the book, Measuring Multidimensional Poverty and Deprivation: Incidence and Determinants in Developed Countries.

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News

Critical Analysis of the System Changes Needed in the Child Welfare System

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The child welfare system coupled with the juvenile and criminal justice systems have ultimately created and perpetuated the systemic constraints and social underpinnings that keep Black families court involved and monitored.

Data reveals that pluralism across systems yields, “much earlier contact with child protection, committing the first offense at least two years earlier than the general population; had been identified with mental health concerns but not referred to treatment; and had complex trauma histories.” This leaves Black women and girls vulnerable to navigate complex, bureaucratic systems that pathologize Black life and culture. Faced with challenges at the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, support across the economic spectrum is what families need in order to meet their needs and goals.

The US Department of Justice report, in 2015, Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls, highlights “the impact of criminalization policies on African American women and girls who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including the impact of arrest, detention, incarceration, and mandatory minimums.” The challenges and plural systems that undermine a family’s ability to meet those needs and goals were also discussed.

While the report centers the discussion on key points and recommendations for policymakers, child welfare, and the juvenile justice systems, it also facilitates the conversation on the “unintended and undesired consequences” affecting black women and girls. This includes the hyper regulation, monitoring, and criminalization of black girls. In order to address some of the gaps identified in the report, it is imperative that a multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach is developed, implemented, and evaluated. The paradox comes in when we consider the challenges of pluralism across systems.

“Criminalization includes state policies and practices that involve the stigmatization, surveillance, and regulation of the poor; that assume a latent criminality among the poor; and that reflect the creep of criminal law and the logics of crime control into other areas of law, including the welfare, systems” – Gustafason

Challenges faced by pluralism across systems

Within these systems, service users’ satisfaction, evidence based practice outcomes and effectiveness, recidivism to programs, etc. are programs which need evaluation and monitoring in order to measure effectiveness and program improvement. Across the board, within human and social services, allocation of funds for monitoring and evaluation of services is an afterthought. Child welfare programming, “specifically child protection services need funding and efforts for comprehensive oversight and evaluation.” Impacting families directly, but specifically, Black girls, program effectiveness and monitoring data analysis are a key foundation for discussions on program development, process improvement, and policy review.

Access to comprehensive training that encompasses the multilayered challenges of Black girls is imperative. These opportunities will provide a space to better equip and broaden understanding of the systemic underpinnings that impede and exacerbate their unique needs. They need professionals at all levels, who will advocate when systemic and bureaucratic injustices attempt to push them to the margins.

While standard operating protocol and procedures are readily available quality, innovation, relevance to demographics of the clientele is varied and unknown for the professionals within these systems, patriarchal, racial and capitalist ideologies are ever present. These ideologies present themselves through variance in child protective case classifications, options for in and out of home placements, length of court involvement, services referred, recommendation for child removal, etc. only to name a few.

Black girls need programming that mirrors the intersectional, co-occurring and multilayered aspects of their lives. Acknowledging and understanding how trauma, “manifests in delinquent behaviors, and how juvenile justice involvement can exacerbate the trauma,” assists in considering the harm in pluralism across systems.

This includes programming that acknowledges the many roles, barriers and systemic challenges that Black girls face in their families and communities. Data analysis and cross system communication and collaboration to identify “repeat families in the child protection system with whom traditional responses do not work” is a step towards programming that supports the Black family as a unit.

Speaking on the social work profession, Iris Carlton-Laney stated,“the profession maintains a discomforting silence when viewing inequalities and social conditions that affect African American families. Where this is true, the social work profession is helping to sustain societal oppression and facilitating the unequal distribution of power and resources.” Specifically, “social workers have a responsibility to intensively examine the ways that gender intersects and shapes” our lived experiences.

Working within child welfare and the juvenile justice system in six, I know that “girls who are in physical confrontations with a parent or guardian or other adult residing in the home are often responding to a failure to be protected from physical, sexual, or emotional harm.” The discomforting silence extends to Black girls and makes you question whether Black girls lives matters to social work.

Special attention should be given to a review of child protection policies, program existence and effectiveness, and referral to culturally relevant, trauma-informed services in an effort to increase outcomes for children and families. Recidivism factors, training resources for juvenile and family court judges, CASA’s involvement and county and statewide data should be continuously monitored and evaluated to increase the effectiveness in the child protection involvement for children of color especially black girls.

In order for collaboration, comprehensive services, and critical policy reform to occur, professionals from child welfare, juvenile justice, in addition to co-occurring (mental health, substance abuse) specialists, need to be at the policy-making table.

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Politics

9 Answers To Burning Questions About Social Security

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Since you began working for the man (your company), you’ve forked over a portion of every paycheck to the man (the government) in the form of Social Security Taxes. You haven’t had a choice in this matter.

Yes, a few semi-crackpots have told you that you can not pay these taxes if you disavow your SSN, but these types of people usually end up in standoffs with the government in remote locations.

So what exactly is Social Security Taxes? Who do they benefit? Why do you pay them? And where the heck did this policy come from?

You have burning questions and I have answers.

In this post, I am going to spell out the who, what, and why of Social Security. We’ll answer your burning questions in a way that doesn’t confuse you or bore you senseless.

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

Question #1: Where Did Social Security Come From?

 

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Originally the bill was going to be called the “Economic Security Act,” but it was changed to the equally boring “Social Security Act” when it was being evaluated by Congress.

Those guys have never been known for their creativity or liveliness.

Ernest Ackerman received the first payment ever – a whopping 17 cents. Even back in 1935, this was not a particularly large sum. Presumably, he saved this money so he could purchase a single beer after he retired.

The program was already a rollicking success!

Question #2: What Is The Purpose Of Social Security?

Most people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. This makes sense given that you can’t collect it before age 65 without a penalty. But, it also provides some life insurance and disability protection as well.

Let’s say that, God forbid, you are in a terrible roller derby accident. It can happen to anyone.

If you didn’t survive your accident, your dependents would receive benefits from Social Security. If you were severely disabled, you would also receive some compensation through what you had already contributed. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done an extensive study on the data and statistics on Social Security benefits, and I will be sharing them with you.

In 2016, approximately one-fifth of the 60 million people who received Social Security benefits were either disabled or dependents of deceased workers.

Now that you have this knowledge, you can go all out in your next roller derby tournament.

Question #3: Who Is Eligible For Social Security Benefits?

 

If you’ve worked for 10 years or more, you’re probably eligible. In order to receive the minimum income of $1,260 per quarter, you need to have 40 credits (or quarters) of coverage.

There are a few odd exceptions to this. Pastors have the option of choosing to not opt-in to Social Security. Federal employees hired before 1984 can’t participate and railroad workers usually get benefits through a different system.

As long as you don’t fall into one of those categories, you should be solid.

Question #3: What Determines How Much You Receive In Benefits?

The amount you end up receiving is based on the amount you earned over the course of your life. The more you earned and paid in taxes, the higher the amount (not percentage) you receive.

Let’s say you’re a high-flying CEO earning a cool six-figure salary. You will pay a percentage of your salary in Social Security taxes, up to a maximum taxable amount of $118,500. When you retire (or are pushed out by a younger, better looking executive), you will receive benefits based on your earnings and what you paid in taxes.

But here’s the thing: the higher your earnings, the lower percentage you earn in benefits. In other words, if you make 45 percent of the average wage, Social Security will replace about half of your income. If you earn more, Social Security will replace a lesser percentage. It’s a progressive benefit.

As you get older, your benefits will be adjusted based on the cost of living. This is to prevent you from sinking into poverty and being forced to panhandle for change.

If you start drawing benefits early, you will receive a reduced amount.

Question #4: Why Is Social Security Important?

 

When you see that chunk of change being removed from every paycheck, it can be tempting to think that Social Security is just a waste of your money. But it’s not.

First, it’s an almost guaranteed retirement plan. The Social Security Administration estimates that 97 percent of people aged 60 – 89 receive benefits or will receive them. This functions as a safety net for retirees.

Second, it’s available to all people, no matter how much they earned. Unlike some programs, where you get the shaft depending on your earnings, everyone has access to Social Security funds.

Social Security matters for the United States, especially as the Baby Boomer generation hits the retirement age. Without it, many people would be left high and dry with very little in their bank account.

Question #5: Can You Live Off Social Security Benefits After You Retire?

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t pay enough to let you purchase a Lamborghini or a house in the Hamptons. In fact, the benefits are actually smaller than many people realize.

In 2016, the average benefit was only about $16,000 per year. Unless you’ll be living in a shack and eating noodles, that’s probably not enough to survive.

And, to make things worse, the replacement rate for wages is falling. In 2016, Social Security replaced about 39 percent of past wages, but it’s going to fall to about 36 percent in the future.

That being said, Social Security will still replace a significant portion of most people’s income and shouldn’t be discounted.

Question #6: Is Social Security Important For People Other Than Retirees?

 

It sure is. It matters to a lot of children in the United States. In 2014, more than 6 million kids lived in homes that received some form of social security income. This includes dependents of retirees, deceased workers, and the disabled.

You may not like giving up money for Social Security but think about the kids. You care about kids, right? RIGHT?

Social Security is also very important for minorities. Why? Because they often have less opportunity to save money and earn pensions. For those 65 and older, Social Security is 90% of income for Asian Americans, 45% for African Americans, and 52% for Latinos.

Finally, Social Security is critically important for women. It’s common knowledge that women earn less than men, take more time out of the workforce, and live longer than men. This combination makes it critically important to women, especially those who survive their spouses. In fact, about 97% of survivor beneficiaries are women.

Question #7: What Would Happen To Retirees If They Didn’t Have Social Security?

Just how important is Social Security to the elderly? Without it, 40% of those 65 or older would be below the poverty line. That is a huge number of people and will continue to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

With Social Security in place, only 10% of those retirees are below the poverty line.

Social Security is really important to a lot of people.

In fact, 61 percent of elderly people rely on Social Security for the majority of their income. For one-third of those people, it represents 90% or more of their income.

Removing Social Security would create a massive problem for those who are relying heavily on the benefits to keep them afloat.

Question #8: Will The Social Security System Continue As Is?

 

That’s a bit of a dicey question. The Social Security Board of Trustees has said that, unless things change, funds will begin declining and 2020 and become depleted in 2034. When they are depleted, benefits will be paid out a reduced rate.

That reduced rate will start at around 79% and decline to 73% by 2089.

Of course, it’s not likely that you’ll be alive in 2089 unless science finds a way to dramatically increase the human lifespan. However, your kids will be alive, so this does affect them.

Let’s hope they fix things before then.

Conclusion

Clearly, Social Security isn’t a perfect system. It doesn’t have a huge payout after retirement and that payout will probably be smaller in the future. But it does play an enormous role in our society. Without it, millions of people would be in poverty.

Additionally, it functions as a safety net of sorts, so that if something does happen to you, you’ll receive at least some income.

Should you plan on living off Social Security? Of course not. But you can count on receiving something after age 65, and that’s a huge benefit.

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News

Study Shows Tax Return Delay Could Hurt Low-Income Families

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ST. LOUIS, MO – Millions of low- and moderate-income Americans who claim certain tax credits will have to wait weeks longer than usual this year for their federal income tax refunds because of a new law aimed at reducing fraud.

The delay could prove costly for countless families “in relatively vulnerable financial circumstances,” finds a new study from the Brown School and the Tax Policy Center.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (PATH Act) of 2015 requires the Internal Revenue Service to hold refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until Feb. 15. Because of weekends and the Presidents Day holiday, the IRS said in a recent statement that affected taxpayers may not have access to their refunds until the week of Feb. 27.

“Many of these families file their returns early and use refunds quickly to pay down debt or for spending on necessities,” said Stephen Roll, research assistant professor at the Brown School’s Center for Social Development and co-author on the study.

“Delaying refunds will likely lead to additional financial hardships for some of these families, who in previous years had received and used their refunds before Feb. 15,” he said.

The study, “Delaying Tax Refunds for Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit Claimants,” is co-authored by Elaine Maag, senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center, and Jane Oliphant, program manager at the Center for Social Development.

“For the average American household, the tax refund is a nice yearly bonus that likely does not impact their finances in any major way,” Roll said. “However, for EITC or ACTC households affected by this delay in the refund, the tax refund is often the biggest single payment they’ll receive in a year.

“Imagine that you didn’t have much in savings and your income was entirely taken up by your expenses,” he added. “Then imagine that, without much warning, an entire month’s worth of your income just didn’t come for two or three weeks longer than you expected. That’s potentially what these households are facing.”

For the 2016 tax year, the Tax Policy Center estimates that on average EITC beneficiaries with children will receive a $3,314 tax credit. The median EITC or CTC family with children reported only $400 in liquid assets, and 69 percent reported credit-card debt at a median rate of $2,000. Fewer than half of these families reported they could access
$2,000 in an emergency, and barely one-third are homeowners.

What can impacted families do?

“Filing early may help, but only to an extent,” Roll said. “Even if you file on Jan. 23, the first day that the IRS begins accepting returns, there will still be a delay until at least the 15th of February.  Filing early ensures that families will receive their refund as quickly as possible.”

Beyond that, Roll said, there are steps families can take to minimize the impact of this delay.

“For example, families should be aware of this delay and try to avoid taking on extra debt, and high-cost debt in particular, at a point when they may have to wait weeks to pay it off,” he said. Additionally, families may be tempted to rely on ‘refund anticipation loans’ that function as short-term loans to provide the expected value of the refund early.

“While these loans can potentially provide families with quick cash when they need it, they can also come with a number of fees or hidden costs that may cause more harm than good,” Roll said.

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Poverty

Windows into a Life in Poverty and Lessons for Social Workers

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Living in poverty is more than not having enough money to meet an arbitrary threshold. For many, a life in poverty is one of perpetual disappointment, missed opportunities, self-loathing and blame. Recognizing these feelings in others, and the impact they have on us professionally, is an important step in creating change. A simple transaction at a thrift store, or a quick inventory of gas purchases, can open our eyes to so much more.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I found myself browsing the racks at a nearby thrift store, shopping for clothes for my upcoming second child. As I haphazardly tossed one-dollar onesies and two-dollar leggings into a growing mound in my cart, I observed another woman, presumably a mom like me, anxiously moving through the store aisles. She carefully scrutinized each item and, even more carefully, examined the price tag. Surveying items that held promise, she would look at the cost and quickly place them back on the rack.

I encountered this woman again at the checkout. She had ended up with four or five items—clothing for a small boy–and paid for the items using carefully counted nickels, dimes, and pennies.

As I got back to my car, I couldn’t help but feel great sorrow for this woman; too poor to buy many of the second hand items she wanted for her young son, and pulling from the bottom of the barrel to provide him with a few essentials. As a mom, I could intimately relate to the deep-seeded desire to provide for your children, and the failure and humiliation we feel when we can’t do that as well as we feel we should.

I, however, had visited the thrift store because I am thrifty, not poor. I can’t stomach the prices at fancy children’s clothing stores for items my child will likely wear once. I have never been unable to purchase clothes for my kids for financial reasons. I have never had to worry that my family won’t have enough of what they need.

Of course, my assumptions could be off. There are undoubtedly multiple scenarios for the woman’s behavior, and there are certainly those who would presume this mom’s prior bad choices or poor money management had gotten her to the place she was that day.  But as a social worker, these are the experiences I can’t help but internalize and analyze. Like many social workers and other helping professionals, I can’t help but feel the pangs of sadness and anxiety, observing the lives of those who struggle to make ends meet.

These observations offer a window into the reality of living in poverty; an unending series of difficult decisions and stress, feelings of unworthiness and humiliation, excited to watch your children grow, but scared about what it will mean for your tight budget. Research increasingly points to the impact of poverty on cognitive functioning and physical health, which is likely no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field. As social workers, observing and internalizing these feelings is a part of what makes participating in this profession so profound, yet often so painful.

This is certainly not my only experience which offered a glimpse into the daily lives of the poor, and if you gathered a group of social workers to discuss, they could most likely build a long list. Both in practice and in our daily interactions in the community, we see it. Some are more obvious. Observations of diapers not changed because there are too few to get through to the next pay, bare cupboards during a home visit, moms who stay with abusive partners to keep a roof over their children’s heads.

Others are less obvious. One dollar lunches at a fast-food restaurant, kids in too-small clothing. A mother snapping at her child who asks for something at the store, not out of anger at the child, but anger with herself for always having to say no. I keenly remember, several years back, watching a low-income parent at a birthday party interacting with the other moms and dads. One mom was gleefully sharing about an upcoming family event in the community. “Only five dollars per child!” she exclaimed. I saw the other mom hesitate, look down, shame in her eyes. Five dollars per child? Easier said than done.

My father, a life-long advocate for low-income people, has many times encouraged people to take a glance at the gas pumps in any given community when they stop for gas. In wealthy and middle class communities, pumps will show recent purchases of $30, $40, even $50 dollars. Full tanks, gas flowing until the pump clicks, symbolic of the abundance in the community. What about a glance at the tanks in poor communities? Purchases totaling $2, $4—gas purchased one or two gallons at a time, as money becomes available (sometimes borrowed or found) — to support a single trip to the store, or the doctor, or work. This strategizing with scarcity is a prime example of the difficult day-to-day decision making that plagues many in low-income communities.

Much like identifying signs of child abuse and neglect, social workers are often the first to observe these seemingly insignificant behaviors. And while others may be quick to blame poor judgement or character deficits for these unfortunate circumstances, we as social workers can see them as symptoms of a larger problem. We can choose to believe that all people, regardless of income, have the desire and the right to care for their families, have meaningful work, and participate in the community. We can choose to view these conditions as motivation for why we must take care of one another.

Internalizing the pain that these families and individuals feel, day after day, is an occupational hazard that we can’t completely avoid. Sometimes these feelings can seem like a burden too great to bear. Compassion fatigue is very real, and we must always remain mindful of the need for rigorous self-care. But it is important not to ignore these instincts, as it exactly these feelings of empathy and care for others that are at the root of our profession, and that can serve as a call to act. I would encourage us to use these experiences and our reactions as ammunition to become better helping professionals.

These interactions can provide us with needed inspiration to keep going in our pursuit of social justice. In daily practice, there are small opportunities. We can provide families with information on free community events so parents can still feel the pride and joy of giving their child a new experience. We can organize a clothing swap among low-income clients to share gently used items. If there are no options for free diapers in our community, we can work to create one. When interacting with clients, we can consider the physical, cognitive, and emotional implications for those living a life clouded by scarcity. More broadly, we can bring these issues to light to our decisions makers, locally and beyond, in the hopes of developing sustainable solutions.

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Education

Talent Is Equally Distributed, But Opportunity Is Not

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America’s recent legacy of trickle down economics has many implications, namely a wide division between the haves and the have-nots. When we talk about this phenomenon, we tend to discuss the reality as if it were merely the economy, but what leads to such an uneven playing field. As education adapts to the modern world, such as online education and distributed access to information and learning, it becomes more obvious that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity isn’t.

This concept comes from one of the leaders in online education: Arizona State University (ASU) President, Dr. Michael Crow, has been out in front of the movement to offer online education in order to provide more access and overcome barriers. What Dr. Crow understands is that we haven’t been operating on an even playing field and this has created barriers that not only keep people from educations, but keep our society under educated, trained and employable.

The Poverty Barrier

Poverty creates some obvious problems with receiving higher education. The cost of attending college has become prohibitive for many. Even with financial aid, much of the financial assistance is received in the form of loans in which young people are less and less willing to take on particularly with no guarantee of future earnings.

There are also more subtle frictions to education that stem from lower economic status. One might think that being poor would be a natural incentive because those in poverty want to escape their economic reality and degrees produce higher earnings, but statistics show that college is often perceived as an unattainable goal. Because of this perception and/or reality, there is usually a lack of planning, savings or academic commitment.

Society Implications

There are some out there who think this is merely the problem of those who can’t afford education, but the implications affect everyone. When we don’t have enough qualified people to fill positions, there is a drag on the whole economy. Businesses can’t expand without adequate skilled workers. Innovations don’t evolve at as quickly and there are many costs to society from welfare to crime.

Because of these factors, there is strong justification to return to a free or at least less expensive post secondary education system. I say return because in the 70s college was tuition free in California within the UC system and across the country, state colleges were so inexpensive that they could be paid for with a part-time job. Now, the cost of college has skyrocketed to the point that millennials don’t see it as a good investment in general, and it is particularly true among the poor.

The Point

One point of resistance when we talk about providing college for free like much of the rest of the world does is its cost. When we dig deep into the real costs, we see that student loan debt is over 2 trillion dollars, and students are having increasingly difficult time paying back student loans. This is creating a burden on our society in multiple ways.

First, the money is borrowed, then there is the cost to try and collect. Plus, students feel trapped by the debt and avoid taking on additional debt that could be very valuable, like going to graduate school or buying a home. Both of these things hinder economic development, and we all pay for an economy that doesn’t grow to its potential.

Second, a better educated population earns more, providing more tax revenue and reduces the burdens of social programs. This should be easily understood. It’s basically the principle of you can pay me now or pay me later. When we invest in our society the future costs go down and we prosper across the board. When we don’t we must manage pervasive crises. It requires forward thinking, but it is better to invest upfront for everyone.

Ultimately, we must come around to the idea that the talent among us is distributed equally, but the opportunity isn’t. When we can accept this, then we can put down limiting perceptions that people who don’t succeed are just lazy or not as capable. This understanding helps promote a more civil and productive society where people pursue their dreams based on desires and not fears. And with democratizing innovations like the internet, there is no reason to hoard education and opportunity, especially when everyone can benefit from increased availability.  

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