The state of the economy has an important influence on every career field. In general, a robust and growing economy is good for the majority of workers, while an economy in decline has a negative effect. The amount of influence varies from profession to profession, but there are few career fields where the influence of the economy is more directly felt than in social work.
One of the main reasons for that profound influence is that a great many social worker jobs are dependent upon government revenue. That means that if the government is paying your salary, then anything that has an effect on the government also has the potential to have an impact on your job. When the economy is doing well, then the amount of income available to the government to tax increases and in the opposite way, when the economy is in decline, the amount of revenue decreases. Less money equals less to pay people with, which inevitably results in fewer jobs.
The close link between government revenue and the number of social worker positions that are able to be funded, makes the economy the single most powerful determiner of the number of social work positions available. While it is true that there are also many social workers who may technically work for private agencies, even they are tied to government for the wide range of social services their clients will need. It will also affect the amount of contracts that will be available for private social service agencies to apply for. Therefore, even a so-called private provider may be reliant on government contracts that are only as available as the funds are.
When a poor economy leads to lower government tax collections, this may lead to unbalanced government budgets. These deficits almost always lead to calls for budget cuts which involve reducing public assistance programs on which social workers and their clients depend. Most states and localities are required by law to balance their budgets, and that balancing act is often performed by cutting social programs and firing employees. Social worker’s jobs are often the first to be put on the chopping block.
The same phenomenon occurs in reverse. When the economy is rising, so do the job opportunities for those working in the social work career fields. A thriving economy that produces more taxable income from businesses and individuals means more revenue for government. Often that extra income is used to restore funding that was cut during the economic downturn. That means that more job opportunities will be available for those in the social work field during times of economic recovery and expansion.
Another way in which social work in profoundly affected by the economy is in the volume of social work clients. Not surprisingly, when the economy is good, more people in the private sector have jobs. During an economic downturn, people lose their jobs and the number of people needing social services increases.
The result is a cruel paradox. When the economy goes down, the need for social services increases. However, at the same time, the declining economy causes government budgets to become tighter. The result is the worst possible situation: The need for social services is rising while the money to pay for them shrinks. Conversely, when the economy improves and there is more money for social services, the number of people needing such services declines.
This see-saw relationship with the economy is why social services careers are sometimes considered insecure. When times are bad your workload increases as the money to keep you employed is reduced. Then when the economy is good, the workload decreases which also puts your job at risk.
Because there is never a time, good economy or bad, where the poor or those in need of help ever disappear, there will always be work in the social work career fields. If you love your work and are good at it, chances are you can ride out these unpredictable economic cycles. The long term solution is to resolve the root causes of poverty, but until such a solution is found, those in the social work career fields and their clients will continue to be at the mercy of economic fluctuations.