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16 Mar

9 Biggest Social Justice Issues of 2020


With 2020 already feeling like it’s speeding by, there are many challenges that social workers are currently facing. From food insecurity to climate justice, the list of social issues in the U.S. and around the globe can seem overwhelming.

At Yeshiva University, we understand that pulling together nine emerging and pressing issues can’t just be about recognizing the challenges individuals struggle with. It’s the responsibility of social workers to understand how big picture issues impact our clients and take action to support the communities we serve.

1. Voting rights

Exercising the right to vote is one of the social justice issues prioritized by the National Association of Social Workers. NASW’s goal is twofold: encourage those who can vote to exercise their right and work to eliminate barriers to participation. As the 2020 presidential election approaches, NASW is hosting webinars on engaging millennials to vote and on understanding the barriers that can hold back low-income individuals, college students, senior citizens, minorities and many others.1 These obstacles can include difficult voter registration, shortened early voting windows and stricter identification requirements.2

2. Climate justice

On the list of social work’s Great Challenges, it might be surprising to see “strengthen social responses to environmental changes.” Climate change tops most surveys as one of the most pressing social justice topics to address—if not the most. The effects can be seen all over the news from record-breaking temps in Antarctica to wildfires in Australia. It might seem like a problem for scientists, not social workers, but climate change can put a strain on resources and impact the wellbeing of entire communities. In reality, addressing climate justice can positively affect many of the other issues on this list, and social workers have the network and skills to mobilize and educate others on its impact.3

3. Healthcare

Social work and healthcare are intrinsically tied together. There are a number of challenges when it comes to receiving quality healthcare, particularly in the U.S. Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, gaps in coverage remain, particularly with mental health resources. The U.S. spends more on healthcare for individuals than any other country, but that increase in expenditure has not translated to higher life expectancies for Americans.4 Social workers offer support to individuals, groups and entire communities, so it matters whether one person is struggling or whether an entire community is struggling to find the care they need.5

4. Refugee crisis

According to the United Nations, more people than ever before live in a different country than the one where they were born. Roughly 70.8 million people have been forced from their homes. Nearly 30 million of them are refugees, and more than half of the globe’s refugees are under 18 years old. This displaced population faces the challenges of accessing education, healthcare, job opportunities and other resources. Whether it’s escaping conflict in their home country or a natural disaster, refugees need additional support dealing with the logistical, mental and emotional burdens of their situation—support that social workers are uniquely adept at providing.6

5. Ageing

Ageing is another social justice issue that the United Nations is tracking. In 2018, it found that the number of people over the age of 65 outnumbered children under 5 for the first time ever.7 Generally speaking this has meant an increase in healthcare costs, but starting this year, the U.S. social security system will be operating in the negative, taking in less than what it’s spending.8 With a growing population in need of support and the potential for a shortage in resources and funding, social workers will see changes in who and how they offer support.

6. Income Gap

A recent federal report found that in 2018, America’s income gap was the largest it’s ever been in 50 years. In total, nine states saw the gap widen, despite low unemployment rates nationally. Some take this as a sign that changes in the economy are not helping lower income families as much as others.9 Social workers play a critical role in assisting those struggling. Also, pay disparities can be a factor at play. However, even in the field of social work, the gender pay gap exists, where there is a significant difference in how men and women are compensated for the same work.10

7. Gun Violence

Many medical professionals consider gun violence to be a public health crisis, but its impact can be felt across health and human services fields. From homicides to mass shootings to suicides, gun violence is a particularly troubling problem in the U.S., where homicides tied to firearms is the highest among developed nations.11 However, the impact of gun violence goes beyond those who have been killed. Those who have been injured, witnessed gun violence or lost someone also suffer long-term effects, both mentally and physically.

8. Hunger and food insecurity

According to Feeding America, 37 million regularly face hunger in the U.S., and 38 million live in poverty.12 Despite tens of thousands of private, nonprofit and government agencies, food insecurity remains a stubborn issue to solve. It’s also one that will continue to gain attention as more Gen Zers become old enough to vote. One notable survey found that Gen Z believes poverty and hunger are essential matters to address, while older generations rate it lower on a social issues list.13

9. Equality

It’s something stated in NASW’s Code of Ethics, but ensuring equality is an essential part of a social worker’s role. It’s an issue that pervades nearly all of the issues already presented—whether it’s related to finances or access to resources. Obtaining equality in America is a big picture issue that social workers have been and will continue to be dedicated to addressing.

Taking Action

At Yeshiva University, we know the importance of training social workers with the skills and insights to work alongside any community. Our online Master of Social Work is CSWE accredited, and our innovative virtual learning environment, The Heights, provides students with real-world scenarios to help them gain experience in a number of different environments. Apply today and learn how you can make a greater impact.

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