Monday, March 27, 2006


Everyone knows the social work industry is unglamarous, but does the NYU School of Social Work itself have to also discourage the idealistic?

I was in the car with Debra, the thirty-something social worker who had been working for a non-profit for over three years. Debra is a single mother of three and always looks both tired and over-worked, but, nevertheless, she tries her hardest to maintain a positive attitude. Whenever I ask her how she was doing, she generally responds with a joke. But today, her warm disposition was unemployed.

"I don't know how much longer I can do this," she says to me, matter-of-factly. "This life, this job...I dunno. Sometimes it feels pretty thankless."

I am Debra's intern and right now, I'm not feeling so inspired. For the first year of every social work program, a student is arbitrarily placed in an internship without consultation in the hopes that they're get real hands-on experience in the world of non-profit. I am getting my hands-on experience but at this juncture, I would prefer the hands-off.

"I hear what you're saying." And I do seriously empathize with her.

"When I started as a social worker, I did it because I wanted to do something good," she continues, "And don't get me wrong--I still do. But I'm just not sure if it's worth it no more." Debra took a sip of coffee from the cup sitting in the cup holder. "Everybody talks about how hard teachers have it but somehow no one talks about social workers. Take me, for example. I gots three kids to feed. I gots my own wants, stuff I wanna do. But I can't hardly deal with them because I'm exhausted all the time. And I don't got much money."

As Debra speaks, I daze off and begin considering myself how I plan on supporting a family if I'm going to enter this industry. And lest you think Debra is the only one who secretly laments to me, there are others. Unbeknownst to her supervisors, Sharon also plans on quitting her job come summer so she can go to nursing school where the money is more lucrative. "I ain't crazy," she told me. "You think I can do this forever?"

The burnout rate in the social work world is astounding. And it's no wonder. In the past half-year, I have met social work school graduates who have already left the industry two or three years out of school. And all of them tell me the same: what's their incentive to stay?

From the time you enter the schooling, the world of social work is designed to break you. Take for example NYU's Ehrenkranz School of Social Work, which charges over $26,000-a-year for their tuition. Once you consider personal loans and all the costs of the two-year program, you get close to a $90,000 bill. That's three-times the amount of the average social worker's yearly salary. When I asked the dean of the program why the school was so expensive (especially considering NYU's real estate portfolio), she responded, "We have to contribute to the university just as the law school does, and the business school does."

I argued that those specific programs more than compensate for their hefty tuition charges with the promise of the eventual lucrative salaries.

"True," she told me and then responded with an unsatisfactory logic. One that I've heard so often, I wanted to make it into a T-shirt slogan. "You have to really want to do this."

In my brief time spent in the program, I searched efficiently for a silver lining. It was during this expedition that I finally understood why most of the people in the program were woman with a good portion of them either married, wealthy or both.
Every time I considered the worth of my education and where it would get me, I thought of Debra and her exhuastion. "Before I started this job," she said, "I couldn't understand why there were so many homeless people.
"Now that I'm a part of solving the problem, I understand it," she sighed. "Doing good in this world is a bitch."

[Part II coming soon]


Anonymous Frances said...

If you ever plan to be a real estate agent or perhaps just wish to learn about real estate, you should consider enrolling in a real estate investing school.

11:00 PM  

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