Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Union of Soviet Social Workers

In the United States, the institutions most similar to those of the Soviet Union are the DMV and the local Department of Social Services. I’ve been in both of them, and, believe me, it’s a toss-up as to which is more Soviet-like.

The dirty utility carpet… interminable waits on hard chairs… bored, indifferent, and condescending bottom-level bureaucrats… the return to the end of the line after a slight error in the paperwork.

We’ve all been there, and we all do the best we can to keep from going back.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened the website of the National Association of Social Workers in order to read the national study of the social work labor force that was released today. When the slickly-designed page finally loaded, I felt a special twitch of revulsion at the graphic on top: “NASW…the power of social work.” It was enough to make me want to close the window and forget it, but duty calls. Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night, nor Socialism, can stay the blogger from his appointed rounds.

So I started to read the report.

Well, surprise, surprise! The NASW study had concluded that Americans are doing so well that social workers are scarcely necessary any longer, and the organization’s task from now on would be to help its members find gainful employment in other professions.

Just kidding. Here’s how the report opened:

Landmark Study Warns of Impending Labor Force Shortages For Social Work Profession

Services to Millions Threatened

[Washington, DC] [March 8, 2006] – At a news conference today, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) released the results of a national study of licensed social workers. The findings warn of an impending shortage of social workers that threaten future services for all Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us, children and older adults.

“From adoption to geriatrics, hundreds of thousands of social workers in the United States play a critical role in the lives of millions of Americans,” says Tracy Whitaker, director of the NASW Center for Workforce Studies. “The findings of this study emphasize the need to assure a qualified social work labor force for the future. Predicted changes in the country’s demographics over the next years are expected to increase the demand for social work services.”

Didn’t expect that, did you? An organization dedicated to advancing the interests of social workers concludes that… (drum roll)… we need more social workers!

And we baby boomers are the main reason for the coming crunch:

The number of new social workers providing services to older adults is decreasing, despite projected increases in the number of older adults who will need social work services. Social workers provide valuable services to older adults and their families. They help clients to negotiate the healthcare and social welfare systems, to provide resources essential to living and to address the challenges that come with aging. With the aging of the baby boom generation and breakthroughs in medicine contributing to longer life spans, the number and percentage of Americans 60 years of age and older will surge. The need and demand for social work services for the aging will increase dramatically.

The report doesn’t mention that the morphing of the boomer baby into the boomer geezer is accompanied by a singular lack of children in the next generation. Come to think of it, social workers have played a part in that, too – over the last couple of generations they have been busy handing out condoms, counseling abortion, and providing incentives for people to depend on the state instead of their families. Europe is much worse off in that regard than we are, but we’ve got the same disease.

Do you think a social worker ever advised young people to marry and have children in order to guarantee their social welfare in old age?

I’m cynical, but it seems that the recommendations of social workers tend to lead to outcomes that require more social workers.

Oh, I know there are dedicated people in social work, in addition to the time-servers, the squabbling bureaucrats, the meddlers, and the little Stalins. But the social work racket is a system, and, regardless of the intentions of any of the people who act as its components, its only function is to protect its position and grow larger.

And that means that all of us will end up needing more social workers.

The NASW certainly highlights that theme:

Agencies struggle to fill social work vacancies. In all areas of social work practice, unfilled vacancies were an issue. Agencies have resorted to outsourcing and hiring non-professional staff to fill empty slots, an indicator of current labor market supply deficits. Because more than half of health care social workers work in hospitals in metropolitan areas, an additional challenge is to provide comprehensive services to people living in rural areas.

“Social workers are one of the largest and most diverse health professions in the United States,” says Dr. Elizabeth Clark, executive director of NASW. “They have the education and training to look at how all factors in a person’s life – family, work, health and mental health – work together. This study highlights the need to find new and innovative ways for the social work profession to retain the current workforce and recruit new social workers to accommodate the impending demand.”

It’s a good thing they’re there to take care of our children and old people, isn’t it? We certainly can’t do it without their help.

But there was a time when Americans got along without social workers. They somehow managed to give birth, raise their children, make a living, and take care of their elderly, all without help from Social Services. How was that possible?

Maybe that’s why we live longer these days, though I ascribe that more to penicillin, better nutrition, and blood-pressure medication than the actions of the good people down at the Jefferson Area Board for the Aging.

All of this made me wonder how much the social service industry has grown since FDR started the ball rolling back in the ’30s. I started googling, and ran into an alphabet soup of social workers’ professional organizations – local chapters of the NASW, the state organizations, groups fighting for the interests of LCSWs or MSWs. The census had current figures for the field, but I could find no historical data to speak of.

I did, however, run into this interesting little tidbit, “Social Security, Social Workers, and the Care of Dependent Children”, at a University of California at Irvine website:

Thus, since the early 1930s the number of social workers in the United States increased rapidly, climbing from 30,500 in 1930 to 60,000 in 1938 to 125,000 in 1965 to 263,000 in 1972. In addition, the amount of public funding available to support social services, and social workers also increased. At the same time, the number of orphans in the U.S. fell. Some orphaned and many needy children remained, however, and these were increasingly placed with foster-care families rather than in institutions. Social workers had, from the beginning of this century, expressed a strong preference for foster care over institutional care – a preference that we suggest was at least as much a product of social-workers’ concerns for their own professional status (and income) as it was of their concern for children’s welfare.

My emphasis.

So all of these myriad organizations of social workers – all those armies of the righteous dedicated to the cause of making you a better, more well-rounded, more culturally aware and diverse genetic entity – all of them owe their livelihoods to your tax dollars, either directly, through the appropriations for Social Services departments, or indirectly through the semi-governmental health care organizations and hospitals.

And what are they pooling their dollars to do, when they pay dues to the NASW? Raise their pay and protect their perks, right?

Well, there’s a little bit more than that. On the sidebar of the NASW site you’ll notice a menu. When your mouse pointer hovers over an choice called “Advocacy”, a little sub-menu pops up with these choices:

  • Government Relations Updates
  • Grassroots Advocacy
  • Legislative Issues
  • Political Action for Candidate Election
  • Register to Vote

That’s an interesting list, isn’t it? Don’t worry, ANSWER isn’t what you think; it’s “The Action Network for Social Work Education and Research.” But “grassroots advocacy”… Hmm. And “legislative issues” means “lobbying”, I presume.

And “candidate election” – how many of those candidates do you think are Republicans?

This is what your tax dollars buy: a group that advocates for left-wing issues, lobbies to protect itself and expand its turf, and helps elect candidates who further these ends.

Definitely a Soviet style of doing business.

So as we boomers age, and more and more social workers have to be inducted, where’s the additional funding going to come from? I’ll give you three guesses.

Or you can read this manifesto from the Massachusetts chapter of the NASW, Social Workers for Peace and Justice (SWPJ):

The Massachusetts Chapter’s commitment to social and economic justice is carried out in part by its very active Social Workers for Peace and Justice committee (SWPJ) which is located in the Pioneer Valley-Northampton-Amherst area. The Committee was begun in 1982, then as Social Workes [sic] for Peace and Nuclear Disarmamentm [sic] and has since played a key role in the Massachusetts peace and justice movement.

The ongoing mission of SWPJ has been towork [sic] for world peace, advocate for a smaller, more realistic defense budget and using these funds to meet human needs, and educate social workers and the public about the connections between the excessive military budget and the economic and social conditions in Massachusetts.

From the defense budget. Of course!

We’re going beat our swords into wheelchairs and turn our spears into nursing homes, that’s what we’re going to do.

One way or another, you’ll learn to love Big Sister.

Update: A reader sent us this link to (*** WARNING *** R-rated material at the other end of this link!) a post by a social worker who finally snapped.


Thomas von der Trave said...

If they had their way, each one of us would have a designated social worker for every aspect of life.

Can you say geometric progression?

Tamara said...

My first job out of college years ago was with a social service agency. The experience taught me that the chief beneficiaries of these agencies are social workers themselves.

I also learned that they tended to view their 'clients' as either hopeless victims or overgrown children who would be helpless without their care.

There is no question that social work perpetuates the very conditions it seeks to ameliorate.

bordergal said...

They are starting a "social worker for everyone (almost)" program in Britian.

Families on the dole will have a social worker with them every waking hour, to make sure they behave themselves, get their children off to school, etc.
I kid you not.

Whatever happened to the lovely simplicity of "work or starve"?

Baron Bodissey said...


I don't think that it's a cheap shot. Maybe Dymphna will weigh in with her opinion; she used to be a social worker in the People's Republic of Charlottesville.

The difference between the NRA and the NASW is that the former is entirely private. The latter collects dues from public employees to lobby its agenda. It's no different from a public employees' union. Its dues may not be compulsory, but I'd bet my bippy that newly-minted social workers are under strong pressure to join.

There is a HUGE difference between any private organization, no matter how big and powerful, and a collection of paid federal employees (or pseudo-federal employees, like teachers). The latter groups ultimately draw their power from money coerced from taxpayers by the power of the state. They are under no particular obligation to do anything other than enlarge their membership and protect their leadership.

That's what makes it "Soviet": it's an organ of the socialist state, pretending to be a disinterested service group.

The NRA, at least, has to keep its members satisfied that it is fulfilling the purpose that they joined up to fulfill. If it doesn't, members won't re-up.

But you don't join the NASW except to protect your position as a social worker. It, like a public employees' union, has no other purpose.

The chamber of commerce is a better analogy, but, once again, it is a private organization, and does not exercise the coercive power of the state to gain its ends.

Baron Bodissey said...


Taxes are coercive in the sense that they are not voluntary. The fact that they are imposed by our elected representatives does not make them voluntary. If I vote Libertarian, I still owe taxes. I have no choice.

I have a choice about whether I join the IRA or the Sons of the Confederacy, but not whether I support social workers -- and indirectly, the left-wing causes they so assiduously promote.

Your arguments are disingenuous. Social workers are an organized group whose purpose -- collectively, if not individually -- is to create the need for more social workers. Hence they have a vested interest in social dysfunction.

Is it any coincidence that the increase of social dysfunction correlates with increase in the number of social workers? I think not.

Correlation doesn't prove causation, but I have my opinion...

Dymphna said...


As a former social worker who opted out because of deep philosophical differences about the extent to which government ought to interfere with private life, I think the on-going extension of sw's everywhere is tremendously detrimental to the well-being of families. They lose more abusers of kids than they rein in...I've seen too many tragedies enabled, even initiated by social worker placement of foster children to have any respect for the institution.

As for individual social workers, there are a few dedicated souls, but for many it's a time-filler till retirement. I'd rather sweep streets than ever do that job again.

Uncle Pavian: FYI, fibromyalgia is a genetic disorder. It can lie dormant for years until great stress provides the overwhelming environment needed for it to emerge. So I wouldn't be surprised if many sw's had FMS. It's made to order...burn out happens when you have two few resources to do the job required of you. That perfectly describes social work: very, very dysfunctional clients and nothing but bandaids to give them. Heck, I bet they have larger than average cancer rates, too.

Bordergal-- with the underclass in Britain, it's sooo bad they do need someone to show them how to tie their shoes. Read Theodore Dalrymple...but not while you're eating.

Baron Bodissey said...

Do you think that you as a taxpayer should have veto power over how public employees choose to spend their time or their money because they derive their livelihood from taxes? If your answer is "yes" then you are failing to recognize that in addition to being public employees social workers are also private citizens.

Yes, I do. Time was, people who joined the federal payroll surrendered certain of their rights -- voluntarily -- in return for being supported by the public purse. In fact, members of the military still do.

What our forefathers knew, but we seem to have forgotten, is that the public good is subverted by allowing public employees to organize collectively and agitate for their interests, because those interests come at the expense of the rest of us. The process tends to generate an iron lock on the public teat and an inclination to construct new teats indefinitely.

Nobodys rights's are infringed -- you are free to pursue your liberties as you see fit, or to take a position supported by public funds and surrender some of them during the term of your employment. Your choice.

The soldiers in Iraq have to do that. Why not the bureaucrats, too?