Social work has existed for more than a century. The profession can trace a large part of its origin to Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Star, who in 1889 opened Hull House in Chicago to provide social services to the area, which had a large immigrant population. Other social work pioneers include anti-lynching advocate and women’s rights activist Ida B. Wells, and George Edmund Haynes, a social worker who was co-founder of the National Urban League.
These and other social workers in history also were barrier breakers. Frances Perkins, the first female Labor Secretary during the Great Depression, and others helped secure benefits we continue to use today, such as the 40-hour workweek, minimum wage and Social Security benefits. Other social workers, like past NASW President Whitney M. Young Jr., worked in collaboration with President Lyndon B. Johnson and other leaders during the turbulent Civil Rights era to break down the barrier of employment discrimination so Black people could gain access to better paying jobs. Theme & Rationale for Social Work Month — March 2023 Thanks to the paths paved by such pioneers, social work is now one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 715,000 social workers in the nation in 2020 and that number is expected to grow to more than 800,000 by the end of this decade.
WHAT IS SOCIAL WORK?
Social work can be difficult to understand because the profession is so diverse. Social workers work in many different places, including schools, hospitals, mental health practices, veteran centers, child welfare agencies, the criminal justice system, corporations, and state, federal and local governments—to name a few. Although there are many kinds of social work, members of the profession all share common principles: They are people dedicated to seeking complete equality and social justice for all communities and helping people achieve their own potential. Each day social workers help break down barriers that prevent people from living more fulfilling, enriched lives. They work on the individual level, helping people overcome personal crises like food insecurity, lack of affordable housing, or limited access to good health care. They also advocate on a systems level to ensure laws and policies are adopted so everyone can access such services.
This blog post was adapted from the NASW publication "Theme of Rationale For Social Work Month - March 2013"