With a rapidly changing global economy and an economic crisis in the headlines, researchers, policymakers and citizens have been asking how best to help American workers build and maintain economic security for themselves and their families. In September, the West Coast Poverty Center (WCPC) and the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (NBEC) brought leading national policy scholars and prominent policy practitioners to the University of Washington to consider this question and to generate new policies that will promote economic security for today’s working families. The conference, entitled "Old Assumptions, New Realities: Economic Security for Working Families in the 21st Century" was based on the recognition that the bulk of our current social, health, and employment benefit policy structures, created 70 years ago through the Social Security Act (SSA), no longer respond to today’s challenges and realities.
The original provisions of the SSA did little to protect working-age adults and their children. Over the years, federal, state and local governments have addressed this and other gaps in the initial SSA provisions by developing a large and largely uncoordinated array of programs targeted to specific populations and needs - from health and nutritional assistance for low-income pregnant women to public and publicly subsidized housing, means-tested child care subsidies, public preschool services, specialized social and mental health services, employment preparation and vocational training programs, and many more. At the conference, prominent scholars, government officials, and representatives from the public and private sector engaged each other on cross-cutting issues that affect working-aged individuals and their families, and how the current patchwork of services can be brought up to date to meet their needs. The conference began with a public keynote presentation by Jacob Hacker, Professor of Political Science at the University of California Berkeley, on Working Families at Risk: The New Economic Insecurity and What Can Be Done About it. Conference panelists discussed the creation of new labor market opportunities, how to bridge the skills divide, asset-building for low-income families, economic security in the global context, the role of nonprofit organizations in service delivery, and new models and government roles in policy development for working families.
During each session, leading scholars presented analyses and proposals for new policy, with response and discussion from both academic and policy practitioner discussants. WCPC scholars are now compiling the conference papers and commentaries into an edited volume. The Center will also disseminate the conference findings through a series of policy briefs for a wide audience. The conference was organized by Marcia K. Meyers, Director of the West Coast Poverty Center and Professor of Social Work and Public Affairs; Steven Rathgeb Smith, Director of the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and Nancy Bell Evans Professor of Public Affairs; Robert Plotnick, Professor of Public Affairs; and Jennifer Romich, Assistant Professor of Social Work.
Core funding for the West Coast Poverty Center is provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The conference also received generous support from the Seattle Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.