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Social workers play a lot of roles. As advocates, change agents, case managers, educators, facilitators and organizers social workers play an important part in helping people and communities make positive changes in their lives.
Despite this, social workers are themselves sharply underrepresented among elected officials. Currently, while there are 682,000 Social Workers in the United States there are only 2 Social Work-Senators and 4 Social Work-Members of Congress. Compare that number to the 1.35 million lawyers in the United States and the 47 Lawyer-Senators and 145 Lawyer-Members of Congress.
This means that there is 1 Senator-Social Worker for every 341,000 Social Workers in the United States, and 1 Member of Congress-Social Worker for every 170,500 Social Workers in the United States. There is one Lawyer-Senator for every 28,723 Lawyers in the United States and 1 Lawyer-Member of Congress for every 9,310 Lawyers!
But of course, elected officials aren’t just Congresspeople and Senators. They’re Mayors and City Councillors, County Commissioners/Supervisors, County Auditors/Treasurers and PTA Presidents. What can Social Workers bring to this role?
An Understanding of Advocacy
As an elected official, you represent your constituents. You must be able to understand their needs and what it will take to get those needs met. This is the essential element of advocacy and something that Social Workers are experts at. While other fields learn to perform advocacy too, Social Workers have practiced listening to their clients and trying to understand things from their point of view.
A Large Network
Running for any elected position requires you to network. Many Social Workers are already involved in community groups, advocacy organizations, volunteering and client service that can help an election campaign. By leveraging your networks and your connections you can help get your message out. This applies whether you’re running for election or once you’re in the position and trying to get things done for the people that you serve.
A Deep Understanding of Policy
City Councillors make policy. State legislatures write laws. Most elected officials will be working in some kind of policy writing role that requires you to understand the impact of the decisions that you make. The training and experience that Social Workers have makes them excellent in this role. Not only will you be able to understand the “first order” effects of policies like closing schools during COVID-19 or adding a beverage tax, you’ll also see the “second-order” effects – for example on people in poverty.
Few careers require you to assess bias and be as introspective as Social Workers are required to be. The United States is getting more diverse, with people who come from different countries, different ethnic groups, speaking different languages and bringing their own culture, language, and history to their life in the United States. Second generation immigrants have their own set of challenges that come with being sandwiched between two different worlds.
Social Workers can use their understanding of cultural competency to help build coalitions of diverse individuals to get things done and to make sure that all stakeholders truly feel heard in a government environment that frequently does the opposite.
As you can see – despite the under-representation of Social Workers in elected positions throughout the United States, they are excellently prepared to run with these positions and build a better life for their constituents.