Yesterday, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney explained his reasons for seeking the Presidency and said that he is running for the middle class and that he is, “not concerned about the very poor.” His excuse was that, “we have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.” He even went further when pressed that his statement sounded odd, that “it’s not good being poor.” Many social work clients would agree that poverty is not only “not good” but the biggest barrier to success in their lives, and an incredibly complex and difficult one to overcome.
The problem of poverty is deeper than any sound bite can portray. The U.S. Census Bureau stated in 2011 that just over 46 million Americans (15.1 percent) of the population lived below the poverty line ($11,000 for an individual and $22,300 for a family of four). This is the highest figure captured since the Census Bureau starting publishing this data. More than one in five children was living below the poverty line in 2010. Furthermore, poverty tends to be concentrated in “poverty areas” or census tracts with poverty rates of 20 percent or more, such as Mississippi where the poverty rate is 46 percent. The Campaign for American Progress notes that the unemployment rate is still approximately 8.5 percent nationwide, the income inequality gap continues to widen, and poverty continues to rise, particularly among people of color. Debt is high and expenses are insurmountable for many. While employer provided health benefits disappear, Mr. Romney has made it clear that in contrast with his policies in Massachusetts, he would seek to overturn the Affordable Care Act. This picture does not paint a secure social safety net. The Democratic National Committee responded in a statement that not only is Mr. Romney not concerned about struggling Americans but that his policies are also off base and that, “his tax plan provides a modest tax cut, about $167, for middle class families but provides about $146,000 for families making more than $1 million.”
The NASW Code of Ethics states that the primary mission of social work is to, “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular emphasis to the needs of empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.” The NASW policy statement on economic inequality goes on to say that, “no single solutions can “cure” poverty—poverty must be combated on a number of levels. People living in poverty often need increased access to affordable childcare, low-income housing options, mental health treatment, and education and employment opportunities.” Poverty is a foundational problem behind many of society’s ills and NASW is firmly committed to supporting policies, services, and programs that are inherently fair and allow people to live up to their full potential. Social workers have a rich history of working directly with people who are living in or are at risk of living in poverty, organizing communities to abate poverty, and advocating at local, state, and federal levels for fair policies that result in equitable treatment for everyone in America.
Social workers are the professionals who are primarily responsible for the social safety net that Mr. Romney referenced, however we can only hold it together when given the proper resources and support that are necessary to do our jobs. The Center for American Progress notes that, “economic pain for American families remains significant with relatively high unemployment, persistent long-term unemployment, lingering household wealth losses, and crushing debt burdens.” CAP goes on to state that the “current economic recovery would be weaker and delayed had policymakers not taken steps in the past few years to invest in infrastructure and help the most vulnerable.” NASW hopes that Mr. Romney takes note.