“What I find more troubling than the U.S. poverty rate,” said Michal Grinstein-Weiss, a professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, “is the increasingly widening gap in America between the resources held by the rich and those held by the poorest. That gap has continued to grow since we began measuring net worth in the early 1980s. Last year, the top 10 percent of American families held 75 percent of the nation’s net worth - the bottom 50 percent held only 1.1 percent of it. Access to financial resources has consequences that reach into every aspect of an individual’s life and into subsequent generations,” she said.
Poverty is at the root of most social dysfunction. The crisis of poverty, however, is often obscured by commonly held myths.
- Poverty is a natural result of a free market society.
- Rich and poor are separated by merit.
- The poor are the cause of their own poverty.
- The poor you will always have with you.
- Some groups are naturally poor.
- If I deserve the advantages I have earned, the poor must deserve to be poor.
- Most of the poor are born into poverty.
- The poor are often victims.
- Poverty is often caused by other disorders: mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.
- Much poverty is caused by oppression.
WHAT SOCIAL WORKERS CAN DO
- Armed with accurate information, the social worker can be a resource to help debunk myths and stereotypes about the poor that too often blame the victim, and impede the development of effective programs and policies that can lift families from poverty.
- To the extent that poverty represents diminished access to resources and power, the social worker can help the person caught up in the criminal justice system, the poor child with special needs in an inner-city school, the undocumented immigrant in a new community, gain equal access.
"There has always been efforts to counteract, dismantle, or curtail safety net programs,”Mel Wilson, manager of the NASW Department of Social Justice and Human Rights, said. “Vigilance is absolutely necessary. Social workers should always be there from a macro standpoint to see that any effort to dismantle these safety net programs is met with organized push-back.”