|Currents June 2013: Message from the President, Martha Adams Sullivan, DSW, All God's Children Need|
In effect, the children all were equal in that they had shoes, but only those who had shoes that fit were able to adequately walk and run, actually experiencing the value of having shoes.
Daily, social workers are encountering the impact of poverty on our clients. To extend the metaphor, too many New York City residents have no shoes. And how about shoes for the social workers who help them? The status of and impact of social work salaries, working conditions and practice challenges will also be an important area of focus to better understand the economic status of social workers.
According to some reports, homelessness has reached its highest proportions ever. Many of us remember homeless people being very visible on the streets and subways years ago. Homeless people seem less visible on our streets now. But forty-five thousand people sleep in shelters each night in our City and about 20,000 of them are children. People of color are greatly overrepresented among the homeless population.
This wave of homelessness has continued since the early 1980s. We now have an additional risk factor for homelessness: having been homeless as a child! How many of the families you see are presently ‘doubled-up’ and ‘tripled-up’ because they cannot afford rent otherwise? Food insecurity is a problem for far too many people.
What do you advise a parent who tells you that they only serve meat for dinner once per week because they can’t afford to serve it more often? Whoever thought that food pantries would need to limit how often a person could receive food in a given week? And, while jobs are more available, this is not so for all. For example, while unemployment in New York City is now at nine percent, higher than the national average, Bronx unemployment is still as high as twelve to thirteen percent. Long before the nation’s economic crisis, Black unemployment has always been twice the rate for the general population; it continues to be so.
Our recent Annual Meeting presenters were helpful in raising the dual issues of income inequality and inequality of opportunity. It cannot be assumed that all who obtain jobs, including the jobs which social service professionals prepare them for, will earn sufficient income to lift them out of poverty or to create greater opportunity for them and their families. Of course, the intersection of poverty with other forms of oppression such as racism render some groups disproportionately poor and more likely to experience disparities in access to social opportunities such as housing, good schools and health care, etc. Have no doubt that these are cross cutting issues; whether you practice in mental health, child welfare, aging, addictions or other fields of practice, poverty, disproportionality and disparities are critical issues for understanding people in the context of their environments.
And what about those who help? How are social workers and social work practice impacted by the current economy and attendant policies? How do you adjust your home management advice to the mother of a child diagnosed with ADHD with hyperactivity when there are so many people living in their cramped quarters?
The Chapter’s Social Work Equity Project will employ a variety of methods to address and expose the impact of poverty in New York City and the economic and working conditions of social workers. Mindful of the diversity of New York City and the fact that some are disproportionately impacted and that serious disparities exist, our approach will take into consideration the intersection of poverty with other dimensions of difference, such as gender, race/ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, migration status, etc.
In addition to Chapter sponsored activities, we look forward to collaborating with others as well including co-sponsoring or supporting relevant programs and activities. We invite those who are doing relevant work on these issues to feel free to contact us if interested in collaborating.
The Chapter recently co-sponsored “The Impact of Poverty in New York City: A Post Sandy Discussion” with the Women’s City Club of New York. On June 13, a forum Getting Ready for Federal Health Care Reform in New York – What Every Social Worker Needs to Know, organized by Dr. Terry Mizrahi, (Silberman/Hunter) and Mark Hannay at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College will address these issues. See their article in the previous issue of Currents. The Chapter has signed-on to the Governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda. Other activities and initiatives: We are collaborating with Dr. Mimi Abramovitz, (Silberman/ Hunter) and Dr. Jennifer Zelnick, (Touro) on a study of the impact of current policies on social service delivery and client wellbeing. See the Chapter’s statement in opposition to Stop-and-Frisk on our website. Next fall, we also plan to have a Speak Out on Poverty in NYC and plans are underway to develop a set of issue briefs which will be useful for advocacy with policy makers as well as for practitioners, educators and students.
The Social Work Equity Project is a work in progress; there is plenty of opportunity to address the many facets of the issues as they relate to specific populations and fields of practice. There is also plenty of opportunity for you to get involved.
In closing, I’d like to thank the Chapter’s Board of Directors and Officers. The Chapter has been in good hands because of their dedication and willingness to work and to deal with challenging issues. A heartfelt thanks to those who are ending their term of office.
A hearty congratulations and welcome to the new officers and Board members (see below).
We look forward to your participation in the Chapter’s important work!
We welcome letters and comments.