Social Welfare Policy: Responding to a Changing World, by John G. McNutt and Richard Hoefer. Lyceum Books, Inc. Chicago, 2016, ISBN: 978-1933478753, 340 pages, $69.95 paperback.
The changes that McNutt and Hoefer believe require new social welfare policies in the United States focus on globalization, the threat of environmental degradations, and most importantly, the shift from a manufacturing/industrial economy to an information economy. They understand the shift to an information society to be a radical change in economic structures and labor markets, which requires a new social welfare response. Both authors are distinguished social work educators, with more than a half-century of combined academic experience. This new textbook is exploratory in the sense that it is attempting to raise questions rather than provide answers, and the authors intentionally focus on overall themes instead of policy and program details, because they are convinced that provoking thought and action is more important than detailing program specifics. Specifics, after all, may change tomorrow.
Although the book is not divided into sections, the first seven chapters are quite distinct from the final six. The first seven are an attempt to educate social work students about the relevance of social welfare policy for practitioners, and a very strong seventh chapter is an introductory chapter on advocacy. Between these extremes are a brief introductory chapter and two chapters devoted to brief historical sketches. The second chapter compares the social welfare structures in agrarian societies to those in industrial societies. The third builds on this contrast to suggest the potential differences in the early 20th century industrial society to the developing information society that is driven by environmental and economic forces. The fourth chapter is devoted to the coming information society, the fifth inserts a brief sketch of political ideologies that is quite useful for the neophyte, and the sixth proposes a quick analysis approach to policy analysis that may be useful to practitioners in smaller organizations working in short time frames.
The final six chapters address social welfare policies related to poverty/inequality, health/mental health, children/families, crime/violence, housing/community development, and aging. Each of these chapters addresses the quantified level of need and the extent to which existing social welfare programs meet or fail to meet those needs. Of particular usefulness in the classroom are the explanations of the conservative, liberal, and radical theories explaining the causation of need in each case, and the potential changes in the relevant social welfare policies that may be required by the movement toward an information society, global trade, and environmental challenges.
I believe that this book is best suited for a traditional undergraduate audience. The content is an overview, but it may be a valuable introduction to social welfare policies and programs for those without significant life or work experience. Raising the questions about access to information through technology, the influence of technological access on labor markets, how global trade is changing our society, and the threat of environmental destruction are quite intriguing, but several equally relevant issues are not addressed. These include living wages, the escalating costs of higher education, the erosion of civil/voting/privacy rights, the role of money in politics, and those lingering problems of discrimination, social inclusion, and fair distribution of risk and resources.
A comprehensive textbook on social problems and social welfare policies is probably beyond the scope of any one college course, so faculty considering this textbook will need to think carefully about the fit between the author’s three change agents and the needs of their students. This textbook may not fit every region of our country.
Reviewed by Peter A. Kindle, Ph.D., CPA, LMSW, associate professor at The University of South Dakota.