Session: Social Work and Income Policies: Re-Centering Advocacy (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

72 Social Work and Income Policies: Re-Centering Advocacy

Wednesday, January 20, 2021: 5:15 PM-6:15 PM
Cluster: Work and Work-Life Policies and Programs
Symposium Organizer:
Anita Rocha, MS, University of Washington
Lenna Nepomnyaschy, PhD, Rutgers University
Income policies are relevant to social work. Supporting increases in incomes for those with the least resources reflects social work ethics and values (Weis-Gal and Gal 2009). Income levels can strongly influence administration of benefits and services. For example, household income can dictate which families qualify for assistance and which do not. Extreme income inequality can result not only in faulty, even disastrous, distribution of resources, but can jeopardize individual rights to legal and political equality (Waltman 2004). Income levels that fail to cover basic needs likely threaten other forms of social inclusion (Romich 2017). The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how many of the "essential" workers who keep our society functioning earn far less than the "essential" wages needed to support their families. Social workers are natural advocates for policies that increase incomes for individuals with the lowest earnings. Fundamentally, incomes set at or above a sustaining level reflect both the dignity of the individual and a reduced reliance on public assistance.

However, income policies also present challenges for social workers. Where it may appear natural to advocate for more resources for those most in need, like lobbying government bodies or petitioning charitable organizations, it is less clear how to engage the private sector. What claim do social workers have, as a profession, for income justice among those most concerned with market competition and the profit margin? While this tension parallels labor's demands for curbing unrestrained, downward pressure on wages, it also belies simple characterization of mutual interests. Social workers face competing demands as advocates for social justice who rely on public sector funding, coupled with the requirement to create and maintain public and private partnerships. The papers gathered here problematize aspects of this tension.

By re-centering advocacy, all three articles in this symposium place social work professionals directly within the arena of income policies. Paper one argues that basic income, the idea that everyone receives a baseline, non-means tested level of income without a work requirement, wholly aligns with social work ethics and values. Implementing such a policy ensures individual freedom, a leading tenet of social work's ethics. Paper two, prompted by the recent uptick in local and state minimum wage rates, suggests that social work scholarship has not kept up with social work activism on raising the minimum wage, and invites a resurgence in academic interest in this arena. Paper three takes a deeper look at claims-making on the minimum wage, from both the social work perspective and beyond. By deconstructing claims, messages appealing to certain sensibilities appear to increase the likelihood of swaying influential decision-makers.

* noted as presenting author
Freedom and Basic Income
Michael Lewis, PhD, Hunter College
Speaking Truth to Public Officials: Arguments for Raising the Minimum Wage
Sandra Wexler, PhD, University of Pittsburgh; Rafael Engel, PhD, University of Pittsburgh
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