Larry E. Davis, John M. Wallace Jr., and Trina R. Williams Shanks
African Americans have been a part of the nation's history for nearly four hundred years. Although their history includes the forced imposition of chattel slavery, the strict enforcement of legal segregation, and a tenuous acceptance as equal citizens, African Americans have been, and continue to be, major contributors, creators, investors, and builders of America. In this article we summarize briefly the history of African Americans, we examine racial disparities in key indicators of social, mental, and physical well-being, and we highlight persistent strengths that can be built upon and areas that provide hope for the future. The challenge for social work is to simultaneously celebrate the historical successes and ongoing contributions of African Americans to this country while also recognizing the vestiges of structural racism and fighting for greater civil rights and social and economic justice.
This article discusses the African American social welfare system that began to develop during the early 20th century. This social welfare system, designed by African Americans to serve African Americans, addressed needs that were not being met by any other formal social services while the nascent social work profession was emerging. The myriad programs included settlement houses, boys and girls programs, training schools, and day nurseries. The women’s club movement played a critical role in the development of this social welfare system and provided much of the impetus for change and inclusion. Through formal organizations, including the National Urban League (NUL) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and an array of clubs and social groups, social services were extended to urban and rural communities throughout the United States.
King Davis and Hyejin Jung
This entry defines the term disparity as measurable differences between groups on a number of indices. The term disparity originated in France in the 16th century and has been used as a barometer of progress in social justice and equality in the United States. When disparity is examined across the U.S. population over a longitudinal period, it is clear that disparities continue to exist and that they distinguish groups by race, income, class, and gender. African American and Native American populations have historically ranked higher in prevalence and incidence than other populations on most indices of disparity. However, the level of adverse health and social conditions has declined for all population groups in the United States. The disparity indices include mortality rates, poor health, disease, absence of health insurance, accidents, and poverty. Max Weber’s theory of community formation is used in this entry to explain the continued presence and distribution of disparities. Other theoretical frameworks are utilized to buttress the major hypothesis by Weber that social ills tend to result from structural faults rather than individual choice. Social workers are seen as being in a position to challenge the structural origins of disparities as part of their professional commitment to social justice.
Rowena Fong, Ruth McRoy, and Alan Dettlaff
Racial disproportionality and disparities are problems affecting children and families of color in the child welfare, juvenile justice, education, mental-health, and health-care systems. The term “disproportionality” refers to the ratio between the percentage of persons in a particular racial or ethnic group at a particular decision point or experiencing an event (maltreatment, incarceration, school dropouts) compared to the percentage of the same racial or ethnic group in the overall population. This ratio could suggest underrepresentation, proportional representation, or overrepresentation of a population experiencing a particular phenomenon. The term “disparity” refers to “unequal treatment or outcomes for different groups in the same circumstance or at the same decision point.” A close examination of disproportionality and disparities brings attention to differences in outcomes, often by racial group, and by social service systems. It is necessary to examine the reasons for these differences in outcomes and to be sure that culturally competent practices are upheld.
Social work often refers to economic justice but rarely considers what economic justice truly entails. This article specifies a number of areas that comprise economic justice issues and agendas. It also provides examples of how these issues are being advocated and many of the organizations that are involved in these campaigns. In addition, the text discusses the rationale for social work and social workers to be knowledgeable of and involved with economic justice initiatives. Six realms of economic justice are discussed, including inequality, workplace rights, living wage levels and minimum wages, immigrant rights in the workplace, community-labor partnerships, and social programs that support working families and individuals.
Different types of employment and unemployment are defined and the measurement of these concepts is illustrated. Unemployment trends among different groups in the United States are described and competing theories of the causes of unemployment are explained. Finally, policies relating to employment, including those focusing on labor supply, labor demand, and labor regulation, are discussed.
Tracy M. Soska
Housing, especially homeownership and affordable housing, remains essential to the American Dream but also among our most challenging social issues, particularly given the collapse of the housing market in the early 21st century. Housing and affordable housing are inextricably linked to both our national economic crisis and our wavering social policies. Housing is both symptomatic of and a catalyst for overarching social and economic issues, such as poverty, economic and educational inequality, and racial disparities, and it remains an unmet need for a significant portion of our population, such as the elderly, disabled, victims of abuse, those aging out of child welfare, veterans, ex-offenders, and others who encounter unique difficulties and lack of supportive services and service coordination. Advancing comprehensive and coordinated housing policies and programs remains important for social work and in the struggle for decent and affordable housing for all.
Food insecurity and hunger are serious problems around the world, with an estimated 870 million people chronically undernourished. The vast majority of these people—an estimated 14.9%—live in developing countries. Although federal food and nutrition assistance programs and the generally high standard of living in the United States have eliminated the more extreme forms of hunger found in developing countries, less severe but nonetheless serious forms of hunger and food insecurity affect millions of households. Food and nutrition programs require adequate funding, increased access, and further evaluation, but to achieve the goals of ending hunger and assuring food security for all, multisectoral strategies that address the macro-level determinants of food security are needed.
This article summarizes the incidence of women in the United States who have been sentenced to prison as a consequence of a felony conviction for violation of state or federal laws. It also describes their characteristics and co-occurring health conditions; issues that contribute to women’s experiences after release from prison, including those that lead to success and failure during re-entry; and gendered practices and policies that provide alternatives to incarceration.
Income distribution is defined as both the process of distributing income to individuals and families and as the statistical consequences of that distribution. After examining the measurement issues that enter into this distribution, the discussion highlights the evidence for rising inequality in the United States. It finds the top quintile, and even more starkly, the top 5% and 1% of all households, to have made most of the gains. Identifying the effects of globalization as the prime cause for this shift, income distribution is then correlated with other social welfare policy issues such as economic growth, health, and political democracy.