After reading over values and beliefs in Chapter 1, please select and discuss one of the conflicting beliefs and its impact on the time period of your choice from Chapter 2.
below is most of the values and beliefs section of chapter 1
VALUES AND BELIEFS AS THE CORNERSTONE OF SOCIAL WELFARE IN AMERICA
Social welfare efforts throughout American history have reflected the dominant values and beliefs of society. Remember, a value is the worth, desirability, or usefulness ascribed to something and a belief is an opinion or conviction. Those values and beliefs shift, and as a consequence, so too have public policies. For example, at one time in this country, the “desirability” of slavery was upheld as legitimate public policy, only to later become an issue so divisive that the nation faced civil war. One of the outcomes of the Civil War was that slavery was abolished and became illegal. Shifts in public values create shifts in public policy. Understanding the underlying values and beliefs that shape the social conscience of America helps us understand how the social welfare system of today came to be. Two currents underlie the values that have shaped social welfare policies: religious beliefs and social beliefs. The evolution of these values and beliefs has not been smooth, and today’s policy reflects many conflicting values and beliefs. This conflict makes the creation and implementation of social welfare policies and programs difficult in the United States.
Religion has held a strong position in maintaining the well-being of U.S. society. A large proportion of Americans identify with established religions (see Box 1.2). The development of social welfare services can be traced back to values reflected in the dominant religions of the early history of this nation. Those dominant religions were primarily Protestant. The goals of religious charitable efforts were to uphold moral character, maintain humbleness, and help those less fortunate. Famous biblical quotations such as “It is harder for the rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle” (from the Book of Matthew in the New Testament) and “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (from the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament) reflect a strong symbolism of charity and concern for the needy:
Christian tradition mandates a sympathetic attitude and practice towards the poor, disadvantaged, or diseased. There is nothing in the Bible resembling advocacy of material redistribution of resources, much less social or political revolution. The poor, the ill, the imprisoned, and the weak are to be treated with kindness and love, but the Bible deals with this as a matter of personal sentiment and moral obligation. (Wagner, 1999, p. 76)
For the most part, religious values in America have been translated into individual reform, not social change. The emphasis was on individual behaviors of both those giving and those receiving. These emphases are apparent in social welfare efforts of many religious organizations today.
The roles of religion and social welfare are further complicated by the mandates of the Constitution. The United States was founded on the principle that religion and government should not be intermingled. Thomas Jefferson was a firm advocate of the “separation of church and state,” and this sentiment is codified in the Constitution under the first part of Amendment I of the Bill of Rights.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Although religious sentiments influenced charity and social welfare in this country, the law was clear that the government should not be involved in the establishment of religion, and at the same time, the government should not interfere with the free practice of religion. These two values are also an influential part of the social welfare system. Thus, although there is a religious imperative to help, by law it must be done without blending the roles of government and religious organizations.
The constellation of social services today challenges this separation. There are social welfare agencies such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Muslim Social Services, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services, to name only a few. These organizations clearly are identified with religious organizations, yet often receive public funds through grants and contracts and are therefore part of the social welfare system. The issue of separation of church and state that these efforts raise is not new and continues to challenge providers of social services. Box 1.3 presents a point of view that critiques the reality of separation of church and state for one particular organization, but the point could be argued for all groups that are affiliated with religions.
The impact of religion in the political arena may follow economic and social trends. The proportion of Americans who identify as having strong religious beliefs declined from the mid-1990s to 2007 (Pew Research Center, 2007). Dionne (2008) suggested that a look at history since the 1920s reveals shifts between public attention on religion and morals to economics and secular values. He argues that when economic concerns grow, such as during the economic decline during the Great Recession of 2008 and the years following, less attention is paid to cultural issues. He suggests that 2008 may have ushered in a shift when economic prosperity becomes more important than religion and culture. While it may be too soon to see if this trend is occurring, recent data suggest that the importance of religion has been declining for young people, those born after 1981, while staying level for those who are older (Pew Research Center, 2012). This may be due to declining economics, which hit those who are starting their careers hardest. This shift in religious values among the younger generation of American adults may have an impact over time on the political arena
Related to religious values are personal values. Each of us has our own beliefs, shaped by our life experiences and backgrounds. It is difficult to separate what is important to us personally from what might be important socially. In fact, personal beliefs can drive us to be involved publicly. Although we all carry our own values and beliefs, it is important when analyzing social issues and providing social services that we strive to be aware of what values and beliefs are our own, what are dominant in society, and the intersection of the two.
As the United States was founded on the principle of separation of religion and state, strong values emerged based on membership in society. Two strong social values that shaped social welfare policy are social responsibility and citizenship. Americans have long held the values of hard work and self-sufficiency. However, at the same time, social responsibility has been valued. Opinion polls reflect this conflicting sentiment (Pew Research Center, 2012). Americans value individual enterprise. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of those polled disagreed with the idea that “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control” and 63 percent disagreed with the statement “Hard work offers little guarantee of success.” Although Americans strongly feel that individual effort is rewarded, public opinion also expresses the need for government intervention. More than half (59 percent) say it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who cannot care for themselves. Also, 59 percent believe that the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep. Although these numbers suggest that the majority of people favor government social welfare services, a more accurate picture is seen when one examines the views of those who identify with one of the two major political parties. Box 1.4 demonstrates the disparity.
Trust in our national government to do what is right has fluctuated over the past 35 years, from a high of 47 percent who say they trust our government, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, to a low of 17 percent during the financial crisis of 2008, and then inching back to 24 percent by 2014 (Pew Research Center, 2014). The emergence of the “Tea Party” movement and concerns raised by “Occupy Wall Street” participants in recent years have demonstrated a growth in anti-government sentiment. The percentage of people who consider that the government is a major threat to their personal rights and freedoms is now higher (30 percent) than when the question was first asked in 1995, when only 12 percent felt that way (Pew Research Center, 2010). This erosion in support and trust in the federal government poses significant challenges to the role of government in public social services and promoting social welfare throughout the nation.
The role of government in aiding its citizens is closely related to the expectation that citizens will be involved in society. American history is replete with active civic involvement.
An extensive and participatory civil society took shape from the start of U.S. nationhood, even as life for the vast majority of Americans proceeded on farms or in small towns. In the era between the Revolution and the Civil War, voluntary groups multiplied and formed links across localities, spurred on by government activities and popular political contention in the new republic and by competitive religious evangelism in a nation without an established church. (Skocpol, 1999, p. 37)
A democracy by definition demands participation of its citizens. A democratic government is founded on the principle that the entire population is involved in the election of representatives, and hence each person is part of the government system (see Box 1.5). As Theda Skocpol (1999) discovered in her research on the history of civic engagement, the nature of American government from the beginning encouraged participation, from political action in competing groups to mobilization for revolution, the Civil War, and both world wars.
Social justice is another value that is integral to the social work profession: “Social workers promote social justice and social change” (National Association of Social Workers, 2008, Preamble). Social justice describes the level of fairness that exists in society. The Social Work Dictionary (Barker, 2003) defines it as:
An ideal condition in which all members of society have the same basic rights, protection, opportunities, obligations, and social benefits. Implicit in this concept is the notion that historical inequities should be acknowledged and remedied through specific measures. (pp. 404–405)
CONFLICTING VALUES AND BELIEFS IN SOCIAL WELFARE POLICY
Americans support the values of helping those in need, contributing to charity, being socially caring, and participating as a citizen. Nevertheless, people view those values differently. Box 1.6 outlines three general areas where social values conflict. Do we think responsibility for people’s well-being is personal and private, or should it be a collective and public concern? Should we respond to social needs as they occur, or should we take a long-term approach? Values are not fixed, so people may opt for personal responsibility as the first solution for some issues and collective attention for other issues. Values may change over time for the nation as a whole or for some individuals. For example, suppose you believe strongly in personal and private responsibility. Paying Social Security taxes would be disturbing to your sense of what is important—your values. Years later, when you face retirement, you may rethink your value of private responsibility and welcome the collective aspects of Social Security benefits. Fluidity is the reality (Box 1.6). Values can shift over time, and from issue to issue.
UNDESERVING VERSUS DESERVING
Most Americans support the idea of helping people in need, as long as the people are worthy of help. They must be seen as trying hard, willing to work if given the chance, and grateful for any and all opportunities. The belief that there are deserving and undeserving people dates back to the colonial period (1700s) and is still significant today in discussions of need. Early colonial laws considered widows, orphans, elderly people, and people with a physical disability as worthy of assistance. The characteristic they shared was that they were in need through circumstances beyond their control. That view has shaped welfare policy for hundreds of years. For example, in political speeches given in the House of Representatives hours before the approval of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, the overriding concern of lawmakers was self-sufficiency and serving only the truly needy (Segal & Kilty, 2003). If a person is perceived as being able to work but still poor, then the belief is that the person is not worthy of assistance.
Distinguishing between who is deserving and who is undeserving may seem like a clear and logical process. Any reasonable person should be able to decide who should receive social welfare and who should not. However, the difference between who is worthy and who is not is based on an individual’s view of the circumstances that led to the need. What is missing from this perspective is the consideration of cause. For example, is poverty the result of personal failure or of societal structures that create barriers to resources? Should we focus on the impoverished individual or on the economics of society? The next pair of conflicting beliefs relate more specifically to this dilemma.
PERSONAL FAILURE VERSUS SYSTEM FAILURE
Many people question a person who looks healthy but is receiving government assistance: Why isn’t the person working? It is difficult not to immediately compare your own ability to hold a job and earn enough to support yourself and your family with another person’s inability to do so and their receiving assistance without working. Many people feel it is unfair and believe such a person to be undeserving. However, what is often lacking in understanding need in America is consideration of the impact of economic, social, and political systems on access and opportunity. Racism limits people’s opportunities. Women are treated differently than men. Companies find it cost-effective to close plants and move, leaving hundreds of workers without jobs. Many do not have the skills to quickly find another job. Higher education and training are not available for all, so some young people do not learn the skills that would help them get jobs. We must question whether these are instances of personal failure or whether something is wrong with society’s social interactions, economic policies, or educational systems. If we identify the problem as centered on an individual’s personal behavior, then we would want social welfare programs that focused on changing the way people individually behave. If we consider the problem to be the result of a breakdown in our social or economic systems, then we would want social programs that change the structure of opportunity in our society. This raises the next question: Who is responsible for people’s well-being—each individual or society?
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
As has already been discussed, Americans are torn in their beliefs about who should be responsible for well-being. The belief that the individual is responsible for his or her state in the world is strong, but so is the belief that the government should step in and aid people when they are in need. This split in the public consciousness plagues the development of social welfare policy. Although by definition social welfare involves the general public, the form of that involvement is the subject of debate. If a person believes strongly in individual responsibility, then that person will see personal needs such as poverty, mental illness, and family breakdown as issues that should be addressed by individual effort. For the person who believes strongly in social responsibility, many of these problems are social issues that should be addressed by public intervention. One’s beliefs in terms of responsibility will shape the direction of social policy.
Who comes first, the individual or the community? This is the question underlying the individual versus social responsibility debate. Many cultures believe that people are part of a collective, a larger group, and individuals are not the focus. Other cultures emphasize individuality and the worth of each person over and above the collective society. American tradition is firmly rooted in individualism, and yet democracy calls for collective participation. The disparity between these two beliefs gives rise to disagreements about how to approach social welfare policies and programs.
INDIVIDUAL CHANGE VERSUS SOCIAL CHANGE
If a person is a strong advocate of individual responsibility, then it is likely that when social welfare policies and programs are called into play, he or she will emphasize the individual. If the problem, for example, is unemployment, then the emphasis will be on trying to get the unemployed person a job. If a person holds strong beliefs about social responsibility, then he or she will focus on social change. The emphasis will be on promoting the development of new jobs and general economic well-being for the community, often using government resources to create new or expanded economic opportunities.
SELF-SUFFICIENCY VERSUS SOCIAL SUPPORT
Similar to the individual responsibility versus social responsibility debate is the debate over where support should ultimately rest. Should we promote self-sufficiency (i.e., the individual solely responsible for his or her well-being), or should we accept ongoing need of people through policies and programs of social support? Self-sufficiency stresses individualism and personal achievement, whereas social support stresses collectivity. For some, the belief in social support is so strong that it may not matter why a person has a social need. They feel that the responsibility to others supersedes all and that we must take care of all people regardless of the cause of their need. This value of social support is often at the root of calls for social justice.
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