Thursday, July 28, 2011

Welfare vs. Development: A Social Worker's Call to Fighting Global Poverty

Every morning our newspapers could report, "More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty."
                    -Jeffery D. Sachs
                     The End of Poverty

  In July 2011, news outlets from across the globe reported that parts of Somalia is in the midst of crushing famine while the rest of the country and parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti are in crisis.  Drought, conflict, inability to receive aid, death of livestock and other factors have forced millions of Somali's into extreme hunger and food insecurity and a quarter of the population has been displaced.  The BBC reports that 6 out of 10,000 children die from starvation and disease in Somalia every day.
  The situation in East Africa sadly is but a microcosm of what societies in the margins around the world are experiencing.  According to the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) 1.4 billion people  were living under the international poverty line of $1.25 per day as of 2005 and this number increases to roughly 2.5 billion who live on less than $2 per day.  While the vast majority of those living in extreme poverty live in the developing world (Global South), the developed world (Global North) is not immune from its effects.  In fact, as of 2006, roughly 37 million people living United States lives under the poverty line.  In America, poverty is not shared equally as 25% of African decent and 22% of Latinos live below this line compared to just under 9% of European decent.  Indeed, the poorest community in the US is the Pine Ridge Reservation where 97% live under the poverty line, unemployment hovers around 80% and males have a life expectancy of roughly 57 years.  In the west, only Haiti has lower statistics (The Observer, 2006).
  Those working in development define poverty in different ways due to the complexity of the issue.  Many however divide poverty into two terms; absolute poverty and relative poverty.  Absolute Poverty can be understood as the inability of people to sustain their basic needs while Relative Poverty is based on the income distribution within a given society. Indeed, those living under $11 dollars a day in the developed world is much higher than those living on less than $1 in the developing world, but in the context of the society they are also desperately poor.
  Differences between the Global North and the Global South lie not only in their respective poverty reduction strategies but in the terminology used.  In the developed world we use the term welfare or welfare state to describe the various tools used to combat poverty.  Different countries in the Global North utilize various models from the Scandinavian society based to the US needs based interventions.  Indeed in the United States, the term welfare has become a dirty word describing a lazy woman of color who doesn't want to stop having children.  This inaccurate and unfortunate stereotype further pushes America's poor into the margins of society.  Indeed welfare is intended as safety net which is meant to keep people from falling into extreme poverty. In the US, various programs such as TANF, Medicare and Medicaid act in various ways to assist those with the most need. Unfortunately this approach has also left many falling through the cracks and could be argued have only exacerbated the problems experienced by America's poor.
  In contrast, those interventions used in the developing world are known as development strategies.  Development strategies directly utilizes capacity building techniques as well as aid donations as means of poverty reduction.  Capacity building strategies include: microcredit/microfinance programs, promotion of primary education (especially for women and girls), building of sustainable infrastructure, incorporation of human rights, fighting government corruption, amongst others.  Development at its essence is the belief that people do not simply need a government handout, but have the ability to have an equitable standard of living with the correct capacity building resources in place.
  Social workers have been working to end poverty even before the global profession existed.  It is the base from which all other practice areas are enmeshed.  In our pursuit of social justice in accordance with our human rights framework, we must continue to work to reduce poverty and the ills that accompany it. To reduce poverty in the western world, social workers should utilize and promote the development strategies of the Global South and work to build capacity and promote equity amongst America's and the rest of the developed world's poor.  In fact, we must in order to fufill our mission as a profession.

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