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School of Social Welfare Dean’s Corner: Stand Up! Responding to the Changing Political Landscape

Dear Colleagues,

I don’t know about you, but I am totally consumed with the news these days. I pour over the New York Times, and then constantly check the internet and cable news. So much is happening that is relevant to our work!

I was honored to give the keynote for Social Work month at NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA). HRA is the largest social service organization in the world. My topic was “Stand Up! Responding to the Changing Political Landscape,” and I talked about three things:

• What is the changing landscape?
• What are the “take-aways” from that landscape for social workers?
• What are the 10 actions we can take to stand up for the policies, programs, and practices that are important to our clients and us?

In the next three editions of the Dean’s Corner, I will share those ideas, and I start with –what, in my opinion, are the most influential trends.

Our country, and the world beyond us, are experiencing major demographic shifts. It is clear we are going to be a more diverse society. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2055 the U.S. will no longer have a dominant racial or ethnic majority. The change, driven primarily by immigration from Asian and Latin America, will surely transform our country and its culture.

Millennials have become the largest generational cohort. They are also more racially and ethnically diverse, and tend to be politically more liberal. They struggle with student debt—the average 2016 graduate has $37,000 in student loans, an increase of around 6 percent since 2015. They are worried about their employment prospects.

Women are doing a bit better than in the past, with more of them in leadership positions in every field except business and politics. Mothers are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households, and single mothers, women of color, and elderly women living alone are particularly at risk for poverty.

The percentage of Americans in the middle class (people with incomes of $42,000- $126,000 in 2014) fell to 50 percent of the population. Middle class Americans were especially hard hit by the housing crisis and the recession. Median wealth fell by 28 percent between 2001-2013. In 2015, U.S. incomes began to rise again, showing gains of 5.2 percent to a median income of $56,600.

The world population is growing. There are now 7.5 billion people; and by 2030 there will be 8.5 billion. The population is also aging, and so the future will tilt to a higher percentage of our population being 65+. The fastest growing age group is people who are 85+.

Many other variables are impacting our society.

Technology is quickly replacing “routine jobs” characterized by repetitive task, for example, in manufacturing, clerical work, or sales. It is estimated that 35-47 percent of routine jobs will be replaced by technology. High skill and low skill jobs in the service sector are growing while routine jobs are flat or decreasing.

Technology has also reduced distance. Globalization, that is, easily permeated borders for trade, immigration, information, governance, and problem solving may have its disadvantages, but isolation is increasingly impossible. The Internet, smart bombs, trends, pollution— all defy national borders.

The country is experiencing a growing urban/ rural divide, and it’s not only an economic divide. Importantly, residents of cities and rural America hold stereotypes and feel disrespected by each other.

Finally, the growth of the 24-hour news cycle and various social media platforms have both inundated us with information and reduced our sense of trust in it. Gone are the days when Walter Cronkite was the arbiter of truth. Further, because we tend to share news on social media among our friends, the information we get tends to reinforce preconceived notions rather than educate us.

So what do we make of this landscape? Clearly the ground is shifting for all of us. What is known, what we came to expect, what we thought we could count on– is rapidly changing. No wonder the electorate is anxious! No wonder we are looking for quick answers and solutions.

So readers, write me back. What have I missed? What don’t I understand? Do you agree or disagree? I want to hear from you before next month.

Yours in friendship,
Jacqueline B. Mondros, DSW
Dean and Assistant Vice President, Social Determinants of Health

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