Transcript for Episode 94: Economic Well-Being

NASW Social Work Talks podcast

Elisabeth LaMotte:
From the National Association of Social Workers, this is Social Work Talks, and I'm your host, Elisabeth LaMotte. And today, we are welcoming Professor Deb Figart and Professor Ellen Mutari. They're going to be talking about their new book, "Economic Well-Being," which is excellent. I read it. They use the book Teaching Economics to Social Workers at Stockton University.

Dr. Figart is a professor of economics at Stockton University, where she founded the Stockton Center for Economic and Financial Literacy. She's the author or editor of 22 books and more than 100 additional publications.

Dr. Mutari is also a professor of economics at Stockton University, where she's taught economics, women's and gender studies, and developmental math. She has co-authored two previous books as well as numerous other publications. So Dr. Figart, Dr. Mutari, welcome to Social Work Talks.

Deborah Figart:
Thank you. Please call me Deb. My students call me Dr. Deb, but Deb is fine.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Deb and Dr. Mutari, what shall I call you. Ellen, okay, that's how...

Ellen Mutari:
Ellen...

Elisabeth LaMotte:
...we'll do this.

Ellen Mutari:
...please. We probably should mention that we are both retired now from Stockton. We're professors emerita, but we did teach economics to social workers.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
And so your book is excellent, and I'll just remind our viewers and our listeners that it's called "Economic Well-Being." It's right here for our viewers. And I'm going to start out with a share, a confession, which is that as a social worker, I am very well versed in concepts related to well-being, and yet I am not so confident or well versed when it comes to basic economic literacy. So I found your book very helpful. And I want to start with that confession. And then ask you how you came to teach economics to social workers and how you came to write this book.

Deborah Figart:
Thank you for that question. And just let me say to start, you are not alone. Millions and millions and millions of people and hundreds of thousands of social workers, who care about people, are afraid of their economic literacy. My students say the same thing. But the thing about social work is the focus on the person in environment framework, and what is that environment? It's the economy. And the economy is all around us, and there would be no economy without people.

So 23 years ago, I was having a conversation with my sister who was a social worker, and was a full-time social worker before working in the home full-time, raising three children. I was talking with her about how in our economics requirement at the baccalaureate level, the BSW level for social workers, they have to take an economics course. And they have two choices, Introduction to Macroeconomics and Introduction to Microeconomics.

And in both of those courses, the textbooks are focused and the attention is focused on business students, one of the most popular degrees nationwide, besides psychology and economics majors. And social workers who care about people, who care about the person in the environment, who care about well-being, were frustrated, very frustrated. They liked me, they didn't like the course.

So my sister said, and a friend of ours who teaches popular economics and writes for the economics magazine, Dollars & Sense, very approachable economics, a colleague of ours said to us, along with my sister, "Why don't you just teach your own course, and gear it for social work majors? You have enough social work majors at Stockton to run the course as much as you want." So we did. I started teaching economics of social welfare, a brand new course in 1999. And I taught it for 21 years. And I loved every minute of it.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
And how did the social workers respond to it?

Deborah Figart:
Ellen, do you want to say?

Ellen Mutari:
Yeah, I started teaching it a number of years after Deb created it. The social workers, obviously, greatly appreciated it. The problem with the existing courses is macroeconomics deals with the economy as a whole. And so it's useful for students, social workers to understand important indicators about how the economy is doing, the problems of unemployment, the problems of inflation, and how that affects families. But questions about the distribution of income show up in microeconomics, usually way at the end of the course.

So if you're interested in income inequality, poverty discrimination, that's in a completely different course. And what this course enabled us to do was to bring together both how do we look at the big picture of the economy as a whole, and how do we think about how what the economy is producing is distributed, and put that into one course? Which turned out to be useful, not just for social work majors, teacher education students, especially those who focus on social studies, benefited from the course. Political science majors who didn't want to commit to two semesters of economics benefited from the courses. We had sustainability majors who took our course, and a variety of other different majors, philosophy majors, all kinds of students, because it was basic economic literacy for people who wanted to understand the world.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Right. I imagine it makes economics more engaging for many, many students and people. And I'm also curious if to your knowledge, other social work programs are going in this direction as they learn about the work that you're doing. Do you have any sense of that?

Ellen Mutari:
We don't know the numbers. We did some research on it, and there are quite a few that do.

Deborah Figart:
We do know that at the undergraduate level, having some knowledge about the economy is important when you look at the social work standards for accreditation. We also know at the graduate level, a focus on economic policy and distribution and economic justice is important. And one of the social work grand challenges is to deal with incredible economic inequality in our time. So it fits right in there.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Yes, it definitely fits in there. And I imagine there are many listeners out there who would want to take this course and won't necessarily have that opportunity, but they're with us right now. So if we zoom back, what would you say that social workers most need to know about the economy?

Ellen Mutari:
I do want to say one thing for your listeners, which is that it's published by the National Association of Social Workers Press, and they can get continuing education credit units for reading the book, and taking an online test. So if they're motivated to do that, they can take the course that way. So I just want to point that out.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
I think that's a great idea, and in the show notes section of this podcast, that information is accessible. Yeah, no, that's great. It's great. I think it's of interest to a lot of our listeners.

Ellen Mutari:
We think that there's really three ways that economic literacy can help social work practice. First of all, because of, as Deb mentioned, the person environment approach of social work working with clients can be enriched by just understanding how the economy affects people's individual lives, and understanding the direction that the economy is going. So how does unemployment affect people? How does something like a recession have a lasting effect on people? There's new research on something called economic scarring that we talk about in the book.

The problems of unemployment during a recession don't just mark people for those few years that we might be in a recession, but they have lasting impacts. Because people who graduate from college during a recession have lower incomes than people who don't, for example. Children who have nutritional problems doing an economic downturn, have problems learning, and that has lasting impact on their lives. Businesses aren't started, people don't go to college or don't pursue education because of a recession. So it affects people. And so if you really want to understand people's lives and economic functioning, you need to understand the economy.

But, also, as people go on with their careers and their writing grants and applying for government funding and other kinds of funding for projects, it can help to build economic indicators into proposals, into your budget, so that you understand what it means to have to adjust for the cost of living and inflation going up every year. So it can be helpful in that pragmatic sense to understand economic indicators.

And, finally, social workers also work as advocates in their communities for the constituencies that they serve. And so understanding economic policy proposals, and understanding some of the mythologies from people who've had outdated economics courses is really important. To understand how economists used to think that the minimum wage always caused an inflation, and unemployment and doesn't, and the empirical research has shown that it doesn't. To understand anti-poverty proposals and what kinds of things state and local governments can do to improve people's livelihoods, that's very important for social workers.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So you're talking, Ellen, about both micro and macro deep relevance to having stronger economic literacy as a practitioner, as an advocate, and as a program manager. Could either of you speak to building on that in how this particular book is different than other books about economics or about economic well-being?

Deborah Figart:
Sure. I'm sure we-

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Thanks, Deb.

Deborah Figart:
... both can weigh in on that, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Great.

Deborah Figart:
First of all, the starting point of this book is very, very different. The starting point for almost every economics textbook, if you will, on the market, is the fundamental problem of scarcity. And with scarcity, we have two little stuff and we have to worry about accumulating stuff, and we have to worry about growth for growth's sake. And that's on the macro side. And on the micro side, traditional economics textbooks are focusing on how individual businesses can maximize profit and minimize costs, and consumers can maximize their happiness with what they buy. And markets are as best as they can be, their nearly perfect. And government often gets in the way.

The starting point for Economic Well-Being is provisioning. The goal of an economy is well-being for its people. And we need to focus on provisioning how a society organizes it itself, so that people have assets and resources they need. And the goal of the economy is to have people fulfill their capabilities and their goals. So those are two fundamental different starting points for how to teach about the economy.

Ellen Mutari:
The thing about, I know within the economics profession, but it may be true, I think in other disciplines as well, the textbooks change much more slowly than the discipline as a whole. The textbooks by and large reflect economics as it was done from the 1960s to the 1980s, which is very quantitative modeling that focused, as Deb said, primarily on buying and selling behavior as the way that people provision.

But these days, the economics has sort of evolved and changed. And the important thing about the provisioning framework is that it doesn't just look at market transaction, buying and selling. It looks at the role of nonprofits. It looks at how people's activities within their households contribute to their well-being and functioning. The economy isn't just about going to the store. The economy is about how we take care of ourselves and our families, both in a material level, but in a non-material way too. So I think that that's one of the contributions of this new starting point.

Deborah Figart:
There's a lot of institutions out there that help with provisioning that social workers know very well. Our neighbors, our friends, our nonprofit organizations, our social service organizations, our religious institutions, direct provisioning by government to deal with food insecurity, for example.

Ellen Mutari:
The way we talk about government, which we think is a modern approach, there's a tendency within economics textbooks to refer to what government does as intervention in the economy. As if the economy was, again, households, people, consumers, and businesses who sell to them, as if that was the sum total of the economy. But the government is part of the economy. It's one of the institutions we create. And one of the ways people provision is through things like SNAP programs and government funding of infrastructure. All of these things are important. Medicare and Medicaid, social security, these are all parts of how we provision for ourselves.

And so we don't treat government as an afterthought, and we don't treat it as a last resort. We treat it as a choice that society has to make between what things do we think people can sort of allocate on the basis of ability to pay. If you're talking about diamond necklaces, sure, fine, earrings, allocate them on the basis of ability to pay. If we're talking about basic needs, then maybe we... Right. Well, it's all well-being, right? Somebody's well-being. I love earrings. I'm wearing the very glittery, very dangly ones right now. Right, they contribute to my well-being. They do. But so does having food on the table. So does having basic health. So we need to make decisions as a society about what we allocate on the basis of ability to pay, and what we allocate on other bases, like some kind of fundamental notion of justice inequality.

Deborah Figart:
Yes. For example, childcare is fabulously expensive. High quality childcare is in short supply, and it's fabulously expensive as much as college tuition for infants. So we have to think of a better way to increase the places for childcare settings and childcare spots for children, and the affordability for parents.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So as you talk about, for example, childcare and the cost of it, I think of the pandemic, and how many, I think, women especially were put in situations where they were working from home and providing childcare at the same time. Your book is published this year, in 2022, the pandemic is referenced. Can you speak to how the COVID-19 pandemic shaped your writing of and thinking about the book?

Deborah Figart:
Well, it was hard to write a book in the middle of the pandemic that wasn't solely about the pandemic, that took a broader view of economic and social history. But there's no doubt the pandemic has affected behavior, and it's affected economic behavior, and it's affected the economy in so many ways. The inflation, because of supply chains and oil shortages, because of a war in Ukraine, the unemployment rate, the poverty rate of children, when federal funds ran out for pandemic related policy. So many things have been affected by the pandemic. What else, Ellen?

Ellen Mutari:
Well, I was going to say on a less serious level, because it gave us examples that everybody could relate to. So we could do things like talk about the toilet paper shortage, and how people responded to why was there a toilet paper shortage? And how did consumers and businesses, because we do talk about those too, respond to this shortage of toilet paper? So those are kind of interesting, approachable kinds of examples, too, that we could bring into the book that people could relate to. And maybe in another addition, sometime down the road, people won't remember, young people especially won't remember toilet paper shortages, and we'll have to change the example again.

Deborah Figart:
But what people might remember that will affect us for future pandemics is the government invested in science and helped underfunded companies and funded companies to create a vaccine. And then the government paid for that vaccine. Vaccines were free to human beings. And the distribution system was supported, pharmacists and mobile vaccine sites were supported by the government because of public health. Because one person's life affects another person's life, because we share the same air.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So you're giving these examples that I loved about the book of how it is so current, it's so relatable, and yet at the same time, the book does give a rich history. There's some social workers in the book who I particularly enjoyed learning about. And so I was hoping that we could first hear a little bit more about social work professor Diana Pearce.

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Deborah Figart:
Oh, Diana is such an outstanding, smart, savvy teacher, scholar, activist, advocate. We had the good fortune to work with her and the late, great Barbara Ehrenreich and some other wonderful people on a project in Washington, DC decades ago related to women and the economy.

Diana Pearce became famous for a pivotal article she wrote in 1978 in a social work journal, and it was about the feminization of poverty, she coined the term the feminization of poverty. And she studied the data and she lifted up something that people were not paying attention to. Like people don't test drugs on women, and they don't think about women when they think about concussions, and concussion research, I heard in the news yesterday. So she lifted up the fact that for a long time, one third of female headed households were poor. And it's a little less today, it's about one fourth, but the statistic has barely budged.

So she became an advocate for how do we reduce poverty among female headed households, particularly Black and Brown female headed households, where the poverty rate is higher? And she also interrogated the poverty rate itself and the history of the poverty rate, and how the poverty rate is based upon a formula that is completely outdated from the 1950s and 1960s.

And so she created an alternative to the poverty rate called the self-sufficiency standard, a standard with an amount of money every year based upon family size and geography, where people can actually live and sustain their families. So she brought our attention to a fundamental problem, and then she brought our attention to the statistic for the problem and how inadequate that is, and how we need to do better. So she is a social worker extraordinary in my book.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Likewise, I mean, she took basic social work principles and applied them to economic policy and made it better.

Deborah Figart:
Yes.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Fascinated.

Ellen Mutari:
And it's so important that what we measure and how we measure it really expresses our values. I mean, yes, we're a bit wonky economists, and we're not scared of numbers. And we try to make sure our students are not scared of numbers by the time they finish what we teach. But numbers actually matter because what we measure and how we measure it expresses our values. We didn't even measure poverty in the United States before President Johnson's war on poverty. Nobody even bothered to collect the numbers.

And there's another woman, Mollie Orshansky who was heroine in trying to pioneer that. But she knew what she was doing was kind of seated the pans and inadequate. And unfortunately, we're still stuck with this one statistic that is inadequate. And so Diana Pearce has done marvelous things to try to move that along.

Deborah Figart:
So Ellen says, "Numbers reflect our values," and economic numbers and how we measure them certainly do. And the flip side of that, that's important for social workers dealing with budgets is budgets are also a value statement. Organizational budgets and public sector budgets, state budgets, the federal budget reflect our priorities and our values and what we value. And therefore, we will spend money on that. So money is about values.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So in addition, just to keep going in the interest of time, I really appreciated learning what I already should have known but didn't, reading your book, which is that the first woman to hold a presidential cabinet appointment was a social worker, Frances Perkins. There's a building name for her right here in DC, the Department of Labor.

Deborah Figart:
Yeah, she had-

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Ellen, can you tell us about Frances Perkins?

Ellen Mutari:
Yes, and actually I have written about her in another book that Deb and I wrote with somebody else on wage policies in the United States. She went to Mount Holyoke College, and she heard a speech by one of the social reformers, Florence Kelley, who along with Jane Addams, they're the pioneers of social work, in the settlement house war movement, working against sweatshops. And she heard Florence Kelley speak and she decided that she was going to give her life towards fighting sweatshops, moved to New York to work with Kelley and other early, as I said, pioneers of social work.

But wound up moving into government, originally for the state of New York. She worked for Roosevelt there, but before that, Governor Al Smith. And Al Smith, when she was hesitating about whether she in a sense be selling out by going into government, he said to her that, "The only way we were going to get good government was to bring social workers and policy together," or something like that. I don't remember the exact quote. But that social workers needed to be involved in policy in order to have good government. And I think that's a wonderful story.

And so it was when she agreed with Roosevelt to become Secretary of Labor, she had this list about minimum wages and child labor laws and government employment during the New Deal, that she won. A lot of that New Deal policy came from things that social workers had been advocating for, and it really then became government policy. That was such an important period.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
And so just one more social worker that we'll mention from the book, separate from the voices in the field, which we'll get to shortly, is Jared Bernstein. Tell us about... He graduated from Columbia not that-

Deborah Figart:
Yes. Yes.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
... long ago, and then came back and was the commencement speaker.

Deborah Figart:
Yes. Jared is identified in the press as an economist, Jared Bernstein, but he's a social worker, which means that anybody can be an economist. An economist just studies the economy. And Jared is a very fine social worker. His undergraduate degree is in music. And then he got an MSW, and then he went to Columbia for his PhD in social welfare. So he's sort of like a modern day, if you will, Frances Perkins. When President Obama was president, and Joe Biden was vice president, he served as Joe Biden's chief economist. And this was in the middle of the 2008 to 2009 recession.

And Jared was chiefly responsible for working on the Economic Recovery Act and putting our economy back together. And then he went to the Economic Policy Institute. And when President Biden became president, he now serves on Biden's Council of Economic Advisors, doing the same things, trying to keep us economically healthy and focus on people and their economic well-being. So it is very important, whether you call yourself a social worker who focuses on well-being, economic well-being, or an economist who focuses on people, to be in positions of public policy and to advocate for policy, locally, in your own state, and federally.

Ellen Mutari:
One of the things Bernstein did in that commencement address that you mentioned, where he went back to Columbia, is he urged the graduates not to be intimidated by people who tried to use economic theory to tell them, "No, no, you can't do that. You can't fund that. You can't pay for that. You can't interfere with markets." And he said he knew he's lost a lot of battles with people, but that there are different approaches to economics and they should not be intimidated. They should take what they know and go and advocate for their constituencies.

Deborah Figart:
And that's exactly what we tell our students-

Ellen Mutari:
Exactly.

Deborah Figart:
... in economics of social welfare, "Do not back down. You have clients that need you. Clients and you yourself are in an environment called the economy, and you can help people by improving the economy."

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So, yes, you quote his commencement address in the book beautifully. I really enjoyed that part. And in addition to the people I'm mentioning, the book, Economic Well-being, is interspersed with voices from the field. And why don't you tell us, just pick one, I could pick one, but why don't you pick one and first speak to why you decided to do this, and how it enhances the book.

Ellen Mutari:
Okay. I actually want to talk about the woman, Gloria, right in chapter three, the first voices of the field, who does case work with youth who have gotten into trouble and goes into families households. And she articulates so beautifully. She's a Stockton alum. There aren't all, we got people from all over the country, but she's an alum of Stockton, so dear to my heart. And she talks about how when she goes into families, one of the first things she has to figure out is their financial well-being. How are they financially functioning?

And how financial dysfunction is often one of the most important contributing factors to youth who misbehave, who are having problems in school, who are getting into trouble. And so she finds, first thing she has to do before she deals with the psychological dynamics in the house is figure out what are their bills? What kinds of resources could they get access to that they're not getting access to right now, to improve their financial well-being? And then she can work on the family dynamics.

So I think it's a beautiful illustration. And that's what we wanted to do with the voices in the field, is have examples of how practicing social workers or people who've been in social work and moved on to other things, have used economics in order to improve how they do their jobs.

Deborah Figart:
Yes, it's all about capabilities and having access to resources so you can provision for yourself. And one of my best friends from college is in voices in the field. Her name is Claudia Dunn. She's a social worker in Boston, Massachusetts. She's lifted up the lives of juveniles who have experience with the juvenile justice system, and she cares very much about economic justice and criminal justice. And you can look in the book and see that she actually puts the word justice in quotes, because she interrogates the criminal justice system.

And, again, it's inequality in these youth families that is affecting their lives. Economic inequality is very related to drug use. It's very related in communities to gun violence. It's very related to levels of unemployment, particularly Black youth unemployment, and opportunities or lack of opportunities. So the economy is intertwined with people's lives. And to help people, you have to understand the economy, and you have to deal with economic inequality at some point. It is a fundamental problem for our time.

Ellen Mutari:
There are examples in the book of people who work with the homeless, somebody who works with the United Nations, someone who works with people who are HIV positive or have AIDS, several in the criminal justice system, healthcare, a hospital, someone who works as a social worker in a hospital. There's a real variety of different kinds of [inaudible 00:34:55]-

Deborah Figart:
Somebody who directs the first rape crisis center in the nation.

Ellen Mutari:
Center in United States, yes, in DC.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
And each example is really demonstrating why we social workers need to read this book and to be versed in basic economic literacy. So just a direct question for each of you, which I will ask, but first I want to share this wonderful quotation from your book. You say, "Advocates for economic justice, including people like you, must choose which public policies to prioritize. Should labor market regulations establish higher standards to hold employers accountable for their employees economic well-being? Should public sector employment be expanded to invest in communities and provide alternatives to employment or low quality jobs?" You go on and list other important issues, and you say, "There is no shortage of good ideas to lift people up from poverty, reduce income inequality, and redress disparities." So Dr. Deb, could you go first and share which public policy you prioritize?

Deborah Figart:
Oh, I'm such a policy wonk. It's so hard.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
I know it's hard, but just try.

Deborah Figart:
Let me try this way. Number one, people have an identity that they get from their purpose and their work. Work is essential to well-being. So I would, number one, make work better. Number one, make work better. And there's a lot of policies, notice that I've buried in there, like raising the minimum wage, making work pay, better benefits, universal health insurance, so that people can move between jobs without fear. So making work better.

And then if I could sneak in number two, we have a caring crisis in America. We have to take care of children, and we have to take better care of our seniors. So we have a balancing work and family problem, and we have a care crisis. So I am in favor of a child allowance, a universal child allowance, or at least one tied to income and increasing the affordability of childcare.

Ellen Mutari:
Well, I thought you were going to go with child allowance first. And I mean, we saw, during the pandemic, when there was a refundable child allowance tax credit, that people didn't have to wait until they filed for their taxes for and could get, even if they didn't have enough income to pay taxes, we saw that it had a profound impact on child poverty. And it also would help with helping women in the labor force. So I think that in terms of doable policies, unfortunately, that was one of the things that got cut from the Build Back Better compromise. And I think it was one of the more important elements of Biden's Build Back Better. So unfortunately, we were one or two votes away from making that permanent. But I think it's really important. I think one of the important things that has been done, because it didn't require Congress for child poverty, was the redefinition that increased SNAP benefits. Deb helped me out here.

Deborah Figart:
Oh, they're more generous now.

Ellen Mutari:
They're more generous now, because of redefining... Oh, the poverty line is based on a meal plan, and they redefined that meal plan.

Deborah Figart:
They changed the meal plan.

Ellen Mutari:
The what?

Deborah Figart:
It's not the el cheapo "meal plan" anymore for-

Ellen Mutari:
It's the... right.

Deborah Figart:
It's... Yeah.

Ellen Mutari:
And that wound up influencing the level of SNAP benefits, so that was something that has recently been done. Those are two anti-poverty. But also helping the middle class. I've done a lot, I taught a lot about the shrinking middle class and the problems of the middle class, and the ways in which we're losing a middle class in the United States. So for that reason, I think the employment policies that Deb talked about are really, really important, things to help people organize unions again, are really, really important.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Dr. Deb also referenced universal guaranteed income, loosely, in what she was saying. That's in the book. And it's interesting, because you're professors at Stockton University, and I know of Stockton as the place in California where this pilot study was. And I was interested to read about that. That's an issue I am interested in and care about. Dr. Deb, can you say a little bit more about universal guaranteed income? And where you are with that, and where that-

Deborah Figart:
Sure.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
... is in the book?

Deborah Figart:
Sure. Well, first of all, I'd like to see a universal child allowance for children first. I'd like to start there. And in terms of a universal income versus a basic employment guarantee, a federal employment guarantee that we talk about in the book, I'd like to see a guaranteed government job for people before a universal income, so that it can set the standard, a living wage standard and a family sustaining wage and benefit standard that people can fall back on, because work is so fundamental and purpose to people's identity. So I'd like to start there.

Ellen Mutari:
That's actually-

Deborah Figart:
Rather-

Ellen Mutari:
Sorry.

Deborah Figart:
Go ahead.

Ellen Mutari:
No, it's just one of the few areas where you might find some daylight between Deb and I. She leans more towards the federal job guarantee. I get a little more concerned that it doesn't address the problems of women caretaking for children. But she did say child allowance, to help with that. So I'm more open to the guaranteed income. It's something I wrote a paper on in college in the 1970s, because presidential candidate George McGovern was advocating for it at the time, as was Milton Friedman, a very conservative economist, who wanted to-

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Yes. And that's in the book, that's mentioned.

Ellen Mutari:
... do away with the whole... because he wanted to do away with all the social workers', social welfare system and just give people money. But-

Elisabeth LaMotte:
I never knew that Milton Friedman was an advocate for this, until I read your book. So maybe your next book, if you would please write another one, will be the conversation between these two perspectives. I think that'd be really interesting.

Ellen Mutari:
Do you give people jobs or do you give them money? I think it's a big question.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Yeah, people-

Ellen Mutari:
Basically, with of the gig economy and-

Deborah Figart:
Well, you...

Ellen Mutari:
... whether full-time jobs are a thing of the past or not.

Deborah Figart:
You also need to give people homes. I mean, the fundamental problem, I suppose, when you really get down to it is shelter and food. And we certainly have problems with that in the US that social workers are working on. It is absolutely, we cannot function without having adequate nutrition and calories, and we need a roof over our heads.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So Dr. Deb, building on exactly what you're saying as we get ready to conclude this conversation, which I have really enjoyed. You mentioned Barbara Ehrenreich, and I was struck in our correspondence before meeting today by your email signature, where you quote... Oh-

Deborah Figart:
That's Ellen's

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Oh, Ellen.

Deborah Figart:
That's Ellen's.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
Excuse me. Pardon me.

Deborah Figart:
I have Dorothy Height, the late great African American activist in my signature, that says, "We have to push things forward, even if the times are not ready, we have to push, push, push."

Ellen Mutari:
We have to welcome the time.

Deborah Figart:
Ellen has Ehrenreich.

Ellen Mutari:
Yeah.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So I'm glad that my error meant that we could get to both. So Dr. Ellen, your signature says, "When someone works for less pay than she can live on, for example, she goes hungry, so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently, then she has made a great sacrifice for you. She has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The "working poor" as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor to everyone else."

Ellen Mutari:
And that's from her pivotal book, Nickel and Dimed, which I think some social work programs still teach. Where she went kind of undercover working in low wage jobs, around the time that the traditional AFDC program got changed to TANF, temporary assistance to needy families. And she wanted to see, could you survive and support children on minimum wage jobs? And that was in her book, she found how challenging it was.

Elisabeth LaMotte:
So we are out of time, Dr. Deb Figart, Dr. Ellen Mutari, thank you so much for joining Social Work Talks. Once again, their wonderful book is Economic Well-being, NASW Press. The show notes section gives you information about how to buy the book, how to take the course for continuing education credit. Thank you so much for joining us today for Social Work Talks.

Speaker 5:

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