NASW's Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE), the political action arm of the association, is in the process of interviewing congressional candidates to determine whether they support NASW's legislative and policy goals, including the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative (SWRI).
All seats in U.S. House of Representatives and 34 seats in the U.S. Senate as well as the presidency are up for election this year, noted NASW Senior Political Action Associate Brian Dautch.
"We are interviewing candidates to see who supports the goals of the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative and other major legislative aims," said Dautch. SWRI aims to secure federal and state investments in professional social work to enhance societal well-being. Finding candidates who support such efforts as recruiting new social workers, retaining current social workers, retraining experienced social workers and supporting social work research is vital in this election year, said Dautch.
"We're encouraging members to check back to the NASW Web site to see the latest PACE activity and to keep track of our endorsements," Dautch said. Once those endorsements are posted, it's important that members become involved in supporting the campaigns of those candidates, Dautch added.
NASW's Center for Workforce Studies revealed in a 2004 report some alarming trends in workforce projections — and the need to launch a reinvestment initiative.
For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of social workers is expected to increase faster than the average (18 percent to 26 percent) for all occupations through 2014. The need is even greater for social workers in the area of aging. The Workforce Center estimates that 9 percent, or 30,000 licensed social workers, specialize in gerontology. By 2010, as more baby boomers reach the age of 65, the National Institute on Aging projects that 60,000 to 70,000 social workers will be needed.
Another area that requires attention from candidates is social work salaries, which are among the lowest for professionals in general and for those with master's-level education in particular.
SWRI concerns educational debt as well. According to one study by the Council on Social Work Education, 68 percent of those surveyed who held a master's degree in social work graduated with an average debt of $26,777. Due to their high loan debt and low income, many social workers struggle financially.
Social work safety is also an important area that needs to be addressed by lawmakers. According to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 70 percent of caseworkers report that frontline staff in their agencies have been victims of violence or have received threats of violence. Social workers are considered safer when measures such as global positioning systems, self-defense training and conflict prevention are implemented.