As Erica and Ryan Sheade try to contribute to society and support their family of five, their lives have become more hectic.
In addition to their own social work practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they help struggling community members cope with their issues, the couple are raising three children and attending dance classes, theater rehearsals and at school.
Being a parent and running a family business in their field are both quite difficult, but the Sheades live in one of the many states where it is difficult for a family to make ends meet, save money to educate them. children and prepare for their eventual retirement.
Their jobs as social workers have only become more demanding in the last decade: in addition to incomes on the ground that have remained stagnant and lag behind their colleagues in most other states, the Arizona slashed social service budgets after the 2008 financial crisis, adding to the burden of underpaid and overworked social workers.
The Sheades’ struggles are emblematic of the broader crisis of income inequality that is plaguing the country. Many working-class and middle-class Americans have seen their purchasing power decline and insecurity increase as wages stagnate and even fall in recent decades, while the cost of living – especially the housing – continues to climb.
This crisis has been exacerbated in a historically conservative state like Arizona by cuts in public education funding, as well as reduced enforcement of labor standards, which has caused more pain to already struggling Arizonans.
Ryan strongly criticizes the priorities of elected officials and their state’s political establishment, saying they are in direct opposition to the work the Sheades do as social workers – being the “voice of the voiceless” as the Ryan said.
The Great Recession was a “catalyst” for many forces contributing to the dying incomes of social workers, says Matt Grodsky, director of public affairs at Matters of State Strategies, a policy consultancy firm. The crash prompted state lawmakers to cut billions of dollars from public programs over the next decade, including education and government agency budgets. State Department of Economic Security, which includes Child Welfare Services, lost nearly a third of its budget, encouraging layoffs of social workers and social workers, failure to compensate workers for overtime, skyrocketing workload and reduced services available to Arizona’s most needy families.
Ryan sharply criticizes the priorities of elected officials and their state’s political establishment, saying they are in direct opposition to the work the Sheades do as social workers – being the “voice of the voiceless”.
Grodsky said the state’s annual investment in public education is more than $ 1 billion less than it was before the onset of the Great Recession. Arizona’s unemployment rate peaked at around 11% at the end of 2009. The state, which was unable to return to pre-recession employment levels until the end of 2015, s ‘is found with one of the worst budget deficits in the country after the crisis. The impact of the recession has been felt by state governments across the country, with 43 states facing deficits in the middle of a budget cycle and, overall, deficits totaling over $ 500 billion. 2009 to 2012.
Hundreds of thousands of workers in Arizona earn or near minimum wage, pushing down wages in general, impacting social workers. And there has been strong political opposition to increasing the minimum wage in the state.
“Whether it is not supporting politics in the state chambers and the Senate or challenging the minimum wage increase measures approved by voters through the legal system, common sense politics gradually increasing wages has encountered many obstacles over the years – most of them from Republicans and right-wing organizations.
Despite these obstacles, the minimum wage has steadily increased over the past two decades. In 2006, Arizona voters passed Proposition 202 and the Arizona Minimum Wage Increase Act for Workers in Arizona, which gave municipalities the right to increase local wages from their levels. benchmark, although then state representative and current Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema was silent on the matter. fight. Then, in 2013, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2280, which authorized “regulation of benefits, including pay,” essentially banning cities from raising minimum wages statewide. After a lengthy legal process, the state found the bill to violate Arizona’s Voter Protection Act.
Another bill, approved by Governor Ducey, which sought to prevent local governments from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave and benefits, severance pay and pensions, was also ruled in violation of state law.
Blocking minimum wage increases can hit communities served by social workers particularly hard, as they cannot keep pace with the rising cost of living – namely, housing costs and related expenses. to health care.
In 2016, after years of delaying tactics by politicians and others, Arizona voters passed Proposition 206, which imposed minimum wage hikes in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Public health initiatives have also suffered from economic downturns, affecting public and private sector social workers in the health system. During the recession, the state legislature reduced insurance reimbursement rates by 15% and has since restored only half of those rates.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act, which contains provisions that benefit social workers and provides new funding for the field, has come under constant attack from some of the top state officials. Attorney General Mark Brnovich is currently trying to convince the courts to end the comprehensive healthcare reform law. Senator Sinema was one of four Democrats who introduced a Republican-sponsored bill in 2013 that would allow insurance companies to continue to offer plans that did not meet new ACA standards. And when former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer worked across party lines with Democrats to expand Medicaid, the Goldwater Institute, representing Republican lawmakers, filed a lawsuit challenging the expansion. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the trial could continue in 2014 but ultimately dismissed the challenge three years later.
“Sometimes I just want to… why?” Why can’t we make it work? If we have all this education and we do good in the world, it’s going to happen, right? Ryan wonders.
In the decades to come, that political platform could possibly change in Arizona as part of the state’s electoral realignment, which has turned a shade of purple in recent political races, electing Joe Biden and having two Democratic senators for the election. first time in almost 70 years. . At the same time, Arizonans elected in 2020 one of their most conservative legislatures in decades.
Erica and Ryan continue to fight for a better future for Arizona state social workers. In 2017, they launched the Arizona Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training to train therapists in a safe environment, and Erica leads a group called GEMS (Girls Empowered, Motivated and Strong) focused on improving self-esteem and self-confidence of 8 year old girls. 18.
Their own kids even started a mental health destigma clothing company called Fight, Confront and Knock Out the Stigma (cleverly, FCK the Stigma).
Together, they are doing what they can to meet the needs of their current and future customers. They just aren’t sure it’s enough.
“Sometimes I just want to… why?” Why can’t we make it work? If we have all this education, we do this great thing, and we do good in the world, it’s going to happen, right? Ryan wonders.
Read parts 1 and 2 of this three-part series.