Session: Personal finance, private risk, profit-taking, and public policy: Toward a research agenda in social welfare and economics (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

153 Personal finance, private risk, profit-taking, and public policy: Toward a research agenda in social welfare and economics

Cluster: Work, Family, and Family Policy

Jennifer L. Romich, PhD, University of Washington
Sunday, January 17, 2010: 8:45 AM-10:30 AM
Pacific Concourse O (Hyatt Regency)
With the onset of the current economic recession, recent attention has focused on the changing roles and implications of financial decisions and institutions in the US and world-wide. Researchers in economics and related business fields scrutinize changes in the economy with an eye toward implications for individuals and the market. Are Social Work and Social Welfare scholars similarly examining resulting changes in the distribution of power and wealth and implications for the well-being of the most vulnerable? This panel will provide a forum for our profession to take stock of current efforts and push forward new research on economic topics.

Changes in personal financial decisions, corporate practices, and regulation both preceded and proceed from the downturn. After more than a decade of escalating consumer debt, Americans' personal savings rates are now increasing. Innovative financial products and underwriting standards are being reined in as firms try to limit exposure to the once-sought risk. Direct expenditures have been made from the federal government to privately-held firms in financial services and other areas. These happenings likely mean a sea change in the distribution of assets and opportunities.

What are Social Workers and Social Welfare scholars doing? One response from our profession has been to offer training in “Financial Social Work,” an area of interpersonal practice with persons experiencing financial difficulties or financial-related emotional distress. This clinical approach – while necessary – is certainly not a sufficient reaction to changes in the distribution of financial risk and well-being across persons and between the public and private sectors.

Researchers who understand and have commitments to oppressed or underserved groups can make important contributions to the public debate. As one example, consider initial reports the mortgage market instability was due to loans made to low-income and minority borrowers under fair lending provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act. Later evidence proved this connection to be false, but the fact of the assertion parallels other public reactions, some documented by Social Welfare scholars, that cast blame on vulnerable groups at times of public peril. Social Work researchers should contribute both empirical knowledge and scholarly analysis to these important public matters.

This roundtable session will provide a forum for discussing financially-oriented research in Social Work and Social Welfare. Participants will be asked to discuss several questions: what research is going on now? what questions are currently being asked or not asked? what questions should future research address? Round-table members will include Social Work faculty members with research agendas spanning asset-building, family economic well-being, consumer affairs, and public policy formation. The academics will be joined by two practitioners whose work bridges research and policy: a doctorally-trained community development specialist with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and a Social Worker with a policy group at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services whose portfolio includes financially-oriented anti-poverty strategies. Brief prepared statements followed by a period of questions and dialogue will spark new ideas about how our profession can guide public thought on economic well-being.

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