Creating an Inclusive Economy

Published on : October 9, 2020

About Social Work Responds
The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve.

Follow Up

Did you catch the voter engagement webinar hosted by CSWE and Voting is Social Work? Watch the full webinar anytime on YouTube and hear from social work educators and field directors about the importance of voting in this year’s election, including a truly inspiring presentation from voting rights activist and radio host Barbara Arnwine, Esq. Make sure you, your clients, and your colleagues are registered to vote and have a plan to cast your ballot! 

Watch the October 2 Facebook Live recording of NASW's Racial Justice Town Hall on Economic Inequities. This and all previous town hall recordings are available on-demand. On October 20 at 1:00 pm ET, please join Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and NASW President Mit Joyner for a lively voter mobilization discussion. The event is free. 

ASWB is seeking qualified social workers to write questions for the licensing exams used in the United States and Canada. Deadline for applications is December 31, 2020. Practicing social workers—item writers—write all the questions on the ASWB social work licensing exams. ASWB needs social workers from all categories of licensure with a variety of backgrounds in education and experience. Learn more and apply to become an ASWB item writer.

Creating an Inclusive Economy 

With the election season in full swing and the COVID-19 pandemic unabating, the national conversation about economic recovery has intensified. We know that the pandemic has affected the mental health of our clients, communities, and colleagues, which already had poor access to mental and physical health care. We also know that these challenges are only exacerbated by losses of income.    

Social workers are essential not just in shaping this conversation but in shaping the recovery, particularly for those most vulnerable to economic downturns.

As we enter the 10th month of the public health crisis and its economic fallout, nearly 180 million Americans face the possibility of having their utilities cut off as moratoria expire on extending services despite unpaid bills. More and more people cannot make rent or put food on the table. Indeed, almost 33% of children who live in rental housing are in households that are behind in rent or did not have enough food to eat in the last week. More than half of states have run out of money to fund their share of the Trump administration’s $300 per week unemployment benefits extension (Coalition on Human Needs, 2020).

Not surprisingly, the economic fallout is greatest for people and families in poverty, many of whom are people of color. Unemployment rates for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Indigenous people are all higher than the national average. Since the pandemic began, only 34% of African American women have recovered lost jobs, compared to 61% of white women. These individuals were already excluded from the economic growth that characterized the years preceding the current crisis, magnifying systemic racial, ethnic, and gender injustices and inequities. Over the past 2 decades, the Black–White wage gap grew from 10.2% in 2000 to 14.9% in 2019 (Goldin, 2020).

Social workers are educated to understand that “every person regardless of position in society has fundamental human rights such as freedom, safety, privacy, an adequate standard of living, health care, and education.” It is one of the core competencies of social work education. One can see social workers in countless settings actively helping individuals and families regain their footing by connecting them with resources and addressing COVID-related mental health and financial challenges that can complicate economic recovery. 

In these settings, a license to practice is a contract between the practitioner and the public that services will be safely, ethically, and competently provided. Regulation of the profession gives consumers of social work services a legal avenue of recourse at no cost to them should harm occur. This protection is especially important for consumers who are economically fragile. A license to practice also gives social workers the ability to bill Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies for services provided to clients who might be unable to pay. Licensing therefore enables social workers to get the jobs they need, be paid for that work, and provide services essential to the public.

Macro social workers play a crucial role in creating a more inclusive economy and can help make the systemic changes needed to achieve this goal.

For example, Michael Sherraden, PhD, MSW, founding director of the Center for Social Development at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, has dedicated much of his career to inclusive asset building. Universal and progressive child development accounts are just one of the innovations he has developed and helped introduce into several U.S. cities. 

Deborah Weinstein, MSW, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) in Washington, DC (of which NASW is a longtime member), leads that organization’s efforts to promote adequate funding for human needs programs, progressive tax policies, and other federal measures to address housing, food security, health care, and education inequities. CHN continues to play a major role in defending the social safety net from COVID-related impacts.  

Social workers can help ensure economic recovery for all by voting on November 3 for candidates who will champion economic justice and greater social service access in their communities.


Coalition on Human Needs. (2020, October 2). COVID-19 Watch: Tracking Hardship.
Goldin, N. (2020, June 20). How COVID-19 is worsening America’s racial economic divide. Atlantic Council.


Economic justice is just one of 40 topic tracks and hundreds of presentations available at CSWE’s 2020 Annual Program Meeting (APM), which is focused on Leading Critical Conversations on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. Live sessions will be presented November 16‒20, and registered attendees will have access to hundreds of recordings for up to 12 months! CSWE’s APM is the largest gathering of social work education in the country. Register today for APM. 

CSWE members and subscribers of the Journal of Social Work Education can read “Curbing the Financial Exploitation of the Poor: Financial Literacy and Social Work Education,” an article by Dr. Howard Karger that examines the financial literacy gap in social work education and provides an overview of some key fringe economy enterprises. Financial literacy education is important for social work students who at some point in their career will encounter financially excluded clients. 

NASW produces a range of Social Justice Briefs that address the intersectionality of poverty, racism and other social disparities. Information and tools can be found at