Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Everyday Sociology: Who Is a Low-Wage Earner?

Everyday Sociology blogger Karen Sternheimer posted an entry that defines what is a low-wage earner in American society. Contrary to popular opinion, most low-wage earners in America are adults over 20 years of age and people of color.

The report provides a demographic profile on these low-wage workers. They comprise 37 percent of those earning wages in the private sector; 39 percent of women and 35 percent of men. The vast majority—83 percent—are persons of color.

Despite the widespread belief that most low-wage workers are teens earning extra spending money while attending school, in Los Angeles few of them are teens; 38 percent of low wage workers are in their twenties, nearly 22 percent are in their thirties, and 37 percent are over forty. The majority work full time, and 36 percent have children.

The bulk of these workers are employed in restaurants, retail, health services, and administrative and waste management services. Right now, their median income is $16,000; in 2014, the federal poverty level for a two-person household is $15,730

Friday, October 17, 2014

Social Work@Simmons: The Evolution of Social Work

The Social Work@Simmons Blog released an interactive slideshow on the evolution of social work. It includes a photographic portrayal of important milestones in the history of social work in the United States from the Civil War to the present. It also includes links to the image sources from university archives and philanthropic associations. I highly recommend the slideshow for its educational value.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Useful Social Work Articles for Macro Students at The Social Work Helper

Several years ago, I posted four problems why the social work profession fails to meet its mission, particularly for macro students and students of color. In addition, I made another post about the strengths and weaknesses of social work today. Not surprisingly, social work leaders were absent on the national conversation of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri. Social workers are supposed to be advocates for the poor and oppressed, yet social workers are rarely invited to speak as a collective voice on the news media. The "experts" are non-social workers--elected officials, journalists, lawyers, and social scientists--who are far removed from issues affecting the community at the ground-level. This trend is very disturbing and disappointing.

The contributors at The Social Work Helper has since published more recent articles that highlighted what I discussed in greater detail. I hope you enjoy what these authors have to offer because I share the same sentiments regarding the social work profession: too much focus on title protection / clinical casework and not enough focus on serving the people most in need through advocacy / policy-making. Social work pioneers such as Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, Dorothy Height, and Whitney Young would be ashamed to see how the social work profession lost sight of its mission.

Stay tune for further updates to this post.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

NYTimes: Why Poor Students Struggle on College Campuses

Policymakers and researchers concentrate so much on increasing college completion rates. However, the discussions rarely focus on what happens to poor and low-income students once they arrive on the college campus. The policy roundtables often ignore the importance of social and cultural capital in determining whether a student will fit in and succeed in college. When a poor student from a rural or inner city neighborhood enters the world of the elite, he or she may not relate to their wealthy peers. It is the little things -- where you went to school, knowledge of current events and high culture, and participation in certain sports or social clubs-- that can isolate a student from the campus community. Furthermore, financial setbacks (particularly the rising cost of tuition, books, housing, and transportation) can increase the likelihood that a poor student struggles and drops out of college.
Kids at the most selective colleges often struggle academically, but they are capable of doing the work. The real key is whether they feel comfortable going to professors to ask for help or teaming up with other students in study groups and to manage the workload. At that school in Brooklyn, I taught history, leading students through writing 10-page position papers with proper citations, as well as presenting and defending their work to a panel of adults. Other teachers did the same in their subjects. Through the college application process, these students had help with every step — including convincing their parents that going away to school would be a good thing.

But once those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds arrive on campus, it’s often the subtler things, the signifiers of who they are and where they come from, that cause the most trouble, challenging their very identity, comfort and right to be on that campus. The more elite the school, the wider that gap. I remember struggling with references to things I’d never heard of, from Homer to the Social Register. I couldn’t read The New York Times — not because the words were too hard, but because I didn’t have enough knowledge of the world to follow the articles. Hardest was the awareness that my own experiences were not only undervalued but often mocked, used to indicate when someone was stupid or low-class: No one at Barnard ate Velveeta or had ever butchered a deer.

Urban students face different slights but ones with a more dangerous edge. One former student was told by multiple people in his small Pennsylvania college town not to wear a hoodie at night, because it made him look “sketchy.” Standing out like that — being himself — could put him at risk.

Another link I recommend on social and cultural capital is Peter Kaufman's Guide to Succeeding in College on Everyday Sociology.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Social Work and Cultural Competence

What is cultural competence? According to Wikipedia, cultural competence "refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, particularly in the context of human resources, non-profit organizations, and government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds." Teaching cultural competence has become increasingly important for educational and social work professionals who interact with individuals, families, groups, and communities from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) believe:
Culturally competent services are needed beyond race and ethnicity. Culturally competent social workers are also better able to address issues of gender and help persons with disabilities, older adults, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. A working knowledge of these groups’ cultures and values helps social workers tailor care so it is effective and appropriate for their clients’ needs.

Hall wrote an excellent article on teaching cultural competence in the classroom on The New Social Worker. Furthermore, the NASWpublished a standards guidebook about cultural competence in social work practice. For social workers preparing for the licensure exams, the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) define the terms diversity and cultural competence.