The field of social work encompasses the need for action and change. Social work practitioners advocate for and facilitate change at various levels of society, including individuals (micro), small groups or communities (mezzo), and organizations or government (macro). Macro-level advocacy and intervention efforts work to address problems of diverse populations, such as issues of civil rights and equality, and achieve systemic change. By intervening at the macro-level, social workers are often able to orchestrate greater change at the micro level.
In order to do so, they must demonstrate an ability to effectively engage in policy analysis and practice. Practitioners must be able to identify specific problems and critically evaluate relevant policies to garner support or provide alternative solutions. To explicate the significance of policy analysis, this paper will employ John Kingdon’s (2011) framework to conduct a legislative analysis of contemporary Virginia legislation. It will examine Senate Bill 129, highlighting its target population and problem, agenda, key influencers, alternatives, as well as supportive and opposing arguments.
It will also discuss implications for practice and future recommendations. Population, Problem, and Policy Income inequality has been a substantial issue throughout American history. Persistent through economic prosperities and pitfalls, rising costs and lowering wages have increasingly widened the income gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent of earners (Chu, 2014). Over the last three decades, America’s top earners experienced a 200. 5 percent increase in income, while the remaining population’s earnings have only increased by 18. 9 percent (Chu, 2014).
This unbalanced growth is also occurring at the state level, as Virginia’s top earners grew by 214. 8 percent in contrast to the bottom’s 44. 6 percent (Chu, 2014). Economic inequity can be attributed to numerous factors; however, wage disparities continue to play a significant role in the disproportions of workers’ annual earnings (Autor, Manning, & Smith, 2016). Federal and state minimum wage mandates have neglected to address inflation or worker productivity (Chu, 2014). At $7. 25 per hour, the current federal minimum wage is valued 31 percent lower than it was in the late 1960s (Chu, 2014).
If adjustments were made to account for inflation and rises in production, it would have increased to more than $10. 50 and $18. 00 an hour, respectively (Chu, 2014). Stagnant wages and increased costs of living perpetuate a cycle of decreased spending and demand, which negatively affects economic growth and prosperity (Chu, 2014). Population The state of Virginia has been plagued by the minimum wage debate for years, as working Virginians have struggled to provide for themselves and their families. Approximately 6. 2 percent of the state population is hourly workers, compared to the national average of 4. 3 percent (Fayola, 2015).
Nearly 112,000 of these workers earn minimum wages (Chu, 2014). Women and minorities are most likely to be employed in low-wage jobs, as women account for over half of minimum wage earners (The Leadership Conference, 2001; Chu 2014). Contrary to popular belief, the majority of low-wage workers are over the age of 20 years and do not work in the retail industry (Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, 2014). Additionally, 46 percent have at least some college education (NVAHA, 2014). Diverse subgroups of workers are affected and experience an array of problems as a result of the present mandated wage.
Problem Virginia has not permitted an increase above the federally mandated minimum wage and has never adopted an authority to index the wage to the cost of living schedule (Fayola, 2015). Advocates who support increased earnings have coined the term “living wage,” which refers to the minimum income necessary for workers to meet their basic needs (Alliance for a Just Society, 2015). The current living wage for a single adult in Virginia is $18. 70 and $35. 51 for a single adult with two children (Alliance for a Just Society, 2015).
The state’s existing minimum wage of $7. 5 an hour provides less than 40 percent of a living wage for a single adult and only one-fifth of the living wage for a single adult with two children (Alliance for a Just Society, 2015). Even if minimum wage employees work full-time and take no time off, they will earn just $15,080 a year, $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three (Chu, 2014). For larger families, the income to cost of living deficit is even greater. As an issue of civil rights and equality, Virginia’s minimum wage entraps its citizens into a cycle of poverty and prevents them from obtaining social and economic justice.
Low-wage earners are often subjected to economic discrimination and marginalization on the basis of their age, race, education level, and socioeconomic status (The Leadership Conference, 2001). Unequal and unsustainable pay serves as an infringement of civic equality, as it fosters subjugation and oppression. Workers who earn minimum wage experience diminished economic freedom, as they encounter lesser opportunity and a decreased quality of life (Brooks, 2007). Policy Summary. Historically, there have been minimum wage increases at the federal and state level.
However, those increases have become stagnated in Virginia since 2009 (Fayola, 2015). Legislation concerning state wages has been introduced nearly every year and failed to gain bi-partisan approval (Chu, 2014). In the 2016 Virginia General Assembly, Senate Bill 129 (SB129) was one of three legislative polices to raise the minimum wage that failed to pass the Senate (Richmond Sunlight, 2016). Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke), the bill’s patron, introduced SB129 in an effort to gradually increase Virginia’s minimum wage over the next three fiscal years (Richmond Sunlight, 2016).
The bill proposed increases of the minimum wage to $8. 00, $9. 00, and $10. 10, effective July 1st of 2016, 2017, and 2018 (Richmond Sunlight, 2016). The scheduled increases would have remained effective unless a higher minimum wage was required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (Richmond Sunlight, 2016). Outcome. SB129 was referred to the Committee on Commerce and Labor in January and on February 1 it failed to pass the committee in a vote of eleven to four with the majority in favor (Richmond Sunlight, 2016). The bill would have joined existing policies that have implemented similar wage increases.
As of January 1, 2016, 29 states and the District of Columbia have increased their minimum wage above the national rate of $7. 25 (National Conference of State Legislators, 2016). Interestingly, all of the votes in support of the bill were provided by Republican senators while all of the votes against it were provided by Democrats (Richmond Sunlight, 2016). This fact is particularly noteworthy due to the demonstration of opposition within the same political party. The failure of the bill could be attributed to conservative views, more liberal views, or political strategy.
Some of the politicians who opposed the bill may not be in favor of raising the minimum wage above the federally mandated level while others may be in favor of increasing it higher than the proposed $10. 10. The opposing politicians may have also blocked the passage of the bill due to their own political platforms and agendas. Some of the Democrats who voted against the bill may be trying to avoid controversial legislation due to impending electoral plans. Others may done so in order to “steal” the bill and introduce it themselves in the future. Policy Agenda, Alternatives, and Entrepreneurs
The public policy making process is inclusive of three major concepts. According to Kingdon (2011), the public policy making process begins with the setting of an agenda. Subsequently, alternatives are formed and selected. Policy entrepreneurs play fundamental roles in how agendas are set and alternatives are elected (Kingdon, 2011). These processes are cyclical and often reoccur until the problem fades or is solved (Kingdon, 2011). Agenda The agenda, or the list of conceivable problems that emerge as the focus of attention, is set in response to problems, politics, and participants (Kingdon, 2011).
The agenda for the present policy, SB129, was set in response to the pervasive “working poor” problem, or the rates of full-time employees living below the poverty line at the national, state, and local level (Choitz & Conway, 2015). Recognition of the problem generated from awareness raised by the general public, unions, community organizations, and advocacy groups concerned with income equality and economic justice (Brooks, 2007). SB129 and its precedents were developed in reaction to the grassroots efforts associated with the living wage movement (Brooks, 2007).
Utilizing a bottom up approach, supporters of raising the minimum wage organized campaigns to garner support and apply pressure to governmental officials to introduce, sign, and pass wage policies (Brooks, 2007). Coalitions used various tactics including neighborhood canvassing, public hearings and rallies, peaceful protests, and direct actions on government officials (Brooks, 2007). The policy stream also contributed to the generation of the policy, as the economy remains a significant aspect of the national mood (Kingdon, 2011).
Specifically within the last decade, the national mood has primarily focused on economic recovery, as contemporary recessions have influenced the political sphere and the implementation of public policies that work to maximize growth and minimize deficits. Furthermore, supporters of SB129 may have utilized an open policy window in the political stream to introduce the legislation in conjunction with political platforms and voter support at the national level, as it is an election year and certain presidential candidates have addressed federal minimum wage policy within their campaigns (Kingdon, 2011; National Employment Law Project, 2015).
Alternatives Alternatives are regarded as a list of options from which choices of action are made (Kingdon, 2011). SB129 was developed as an alternative to the current poverty wages in Virginia. Participants involved in the development of the present policy may have established further alternatives during the policy making process.
Further alternatives could have included doing nothing, focusing advocacy efforts on private employers, proposing additional wage ordinances at local levels, proposing smaller incremental increases at the state level, and drafting a state bipartisan bill. Each potential alternative is evaluated for its feasibility, value acceptability, and sustainability (Kingdon, 2011). SB129 appeared to meet the criteria, as it encompassed a practical implementation plan, gained political and public support, and included plans for maintaining the wage increases (Richmond Sunlight, 2016).
Entrepreneurs Kingdon (2011) asserts that policy entrepreneurs are the key stakeholders in the public policy making process. They are the individuals who are willing to provide backing and devote their resources in support of their policy interests (Kingdon, 2011). These entrepreneurs hold varied positions inside and outside of the political realm and significantly influence agenda setting, alternative specification, and outcomes of policies (Kingdon, 2011).
The entrepreneurs of SB129 included: elected officials; community and advocacy groups; public and private employers; employees; and other constituents with interest in the problem and policy outcome. Elected officials. As the patron of SB129, Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) was a key influencer in how the bill was composed and introduced into the political sphere. Edwards recognizes the living wage issue and has supported minimum wage increases throughout his