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Economic Well-Being
An Introduction
Deborah M. Figart and Ellen Mutari
ISBN: 978-0-87101-580-8. 2022. Item #5808. 304 pages.
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Earn 9.5 CEUs for reading this title! For more information, visit the Social Work Online CE Institute.

We are all part of the economy. We all have contributions to make to the economic well-being of our communities. We all make decisions about how we conduct our economic lives based on our values and preferences. Economic Well-Being: An Introduction provides us with tools to accomplish these goals.

As students of social work or other human services professions, it is essential that we understand how economic well-being—or the lack thereof—shapes people’s lives. To use a person-in-environment framework, we must appreciate the challenges faced by our clients, including their access to financial resources and their level of economic functioning. In this groundbreaking text, Figart and Mutari make the study of economic life accessible, applicable, and exciting.

An understanding of economics is also essential when we incorporate data into our proposals and program assessment, and when we advocate for public policy initiatives on behalf of the constituencies we serve. Economic Well-Being introduces the reader to key economic indicators used to define problems, such as unemployment and underemployment, inflation, recessions, income and wealth inequality, poverty, and discrimination. Such evidence can be crucial for justifying budgets, projecting needs, and writing grant proposals. Written from a modern, pluralist perspective, the text shows why economists and policymakers disagree about regulations, social welfare programs, government spending, and tax policies designed to address these economic problems.
Foreword by Lisa E. Cox, PhD, LCSW, MSW

Part I: Studying Economic Life

Chapter 1: Why Study the Economy?
Chapter 2: The Evolving Economy and Economics
Chapter 3: Markets as Economic Institutions: Supply and Demand
Chapter 4: Governments and Nonprofits as Economic Institutions

Part II: Measuring Macroeconomic Well-Being

Chapter 5: The Twin Problems of Unemployment and Underemployment
Chapter 6: The Kitchen Table Economy: Keeping Up with Rising Costs
Chapter 7: Economic Growth and Human Development

Part III: How Is the Economic Pie Divided? Distribution and Disparities

Chapter 8: The Rise of Income Inequality
Chapter 9: Gender, Race, and Ethnic Disparities
Chapter 10: Poverty, Food Security, and Self-Sufficiency
Chapter 11: Wealth, Assets, and Household Debt

Part IV: Pursuing Economic Justice and Well-Being through Public Policy

Chapter 12: Economic Stabilization Policies
Chapter 13: Policies to Address Disparities

A Refresher on Statistical Literacy
About the Authors
About the “Voices from the Field” Contributors
Deborah M. Figart, PhD, is distinguished professor emerita of economics at Stockton University. While at Stockton, she founded the Stockton Center for Economic and Financial Literacy and directed the center from 2010 to 2014. She is the author or editor of 22 books and more than 100 other publications. Her scholarship has focused on employment and economic well-being, including issues such as discrimination, job quality, working time, casino employment, emotional labor at work, minimum and living wage campaigns, the underbanked and financial literacy, student loans, public banking initiatives, and local economic development.

Dr. Figart’s service includes the presidencies of two international professional associations: the Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE) in 2016 and the Association for Social Economics (ASE) in 2006. For ASE, she served three terms as coeditor of the Review of Social Economy. She also continues her long-term participation in the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE); she was a founding member in 1992. Since 2010, she has served on the board of Navicore Solutions, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to counseling consumers about financial management and debt issues. She is a member of the Philadelphia Public Banking Coalition. As a Stockton faculty member, she served two terms as chief negotiator of the Stockton Federation of Teachers (AFT [American Federation of Teachers] Local 2275).

Ellen Mutari, PhD, is professor emerita of economics at Stockton University, where she taught economics, women’s and gender studies, and developmental math. She previously held visiting positions with the graduate faculty of The New School, the Rutgers University School of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, and Monmouth University. Her coauthored books include Just One More Hand: Life in the Casino Economy (2015) and Living Wages, Equal Wages: Gender and Labor Market Policies in the United States (2002), among numerous other publications focusing on feminist political economy, gendered employment, and the role of work in constructing identity. In 2015, she served as president of the Association for Social Economics. She has been a steward for District 925 of the Service Employees International Union and grievance officer for the Stockton Federation of Teachers (AFT Local 2275).

About the "Voices from the Field" Contributors

Kristin Brown, BSW, LCSW, is director of the South Jersey Vet Center in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

Michael Cronin, PhD, MSW, LCSW, is associate professor in the Department of Social Work, Monmouth University, in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and the Main Representative of the International Federation of Social Workers at the United Nations in New York City.

Claudia Dunne, MSW, LICSW, is director of social work and private social service vendors in the Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Public Defenders Office of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Roxbury.

Gloria Hamlett, MSW, LSW, is an intensive in-home community therapist with Latino Family Connections LLC in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Indira M. Henard, DSW, MSW, is executive director of the DC Rape Crisis Center in Washington, DC.

Benjamin F. Henwood, PhD, LCSW, is associate professor at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California and director of the university’s Center for Homelessness, Housing and Health Research. He is national co-lead of the Social Work Grand Challenge to End Homelessness.

Stephen P. Paschall, MS, MSW, JD, practices law at Lovett Bookman Harmon Marks, LLP, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Linda Santoro, MSW, LCSW, is a medical social worker at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Andy Schachat, MSW, is State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor in Dover, New Hampshire.

Sebrina Tate, MSW, MS, is executive director of Bebashi—Transition to Hope in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This innovative introductory economics text prepared for social workers warrants a wide readership. Figart and Mutari open their text by anchoring the discussion on Amartya Sen’s functionings and capabilities approach to the relationship between economic status and well-being. This, in and of itself, is a refreshing departure from the customary paralyzing emphasis on scarcity as the cornerstone of economic analysis. Instead, by beginning with functionings and capabilities, Economic Well-Being immediately moves into a rich conversation about the real circumstances and challenges confronting families due to depressed incomes and wealth and a substantial exploration of social policies that might give them greater security and opportunity.

William Darity, Jr., PhD
Director, Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity
Duke University, Durham, NC


In this introduction to economic well-being, Figart and Mutari provide social workers all the information they need to knowledgeably advocate for economic justice on behalf of clients and communities. They expertly explain competing economic theories and how they manifest in current policies that can either help children, families, and marginalized populations, or perpetuate systems of oppression. This book is a must-have for practitioners who want to learn about the structures of our economic system, and why the United States is as unequal economically as it is today.

Patrick J. Meehan, PhD, MSW
Assistant research scientist
School of Social Work
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


Figart and Mutari’s book fills a crucial but unmet need for students of social work and related professions to understand key economic concepts. Well written and with clear explanations free of jargon, the authors focus on selected topics that are highly relevant to practice, such as kitchen table economics and poverty measurement. Their analysis focuses on understanding the way economies work, illuminating the struggles that so many American households face today, especially those on the margins. At the same time, Figart and Mutari provide a wide range of perspectives and policy options, so that students will better understand not only the context faced by their clients, but also the policy debates that shape the way that the economy works.

Diana M. Pearce
Senior lecturer emerita, director emerita, and scholar in residence
Center for Women’s Welfare, School of Social Work
University of Washington, Seattle


Economic Well-Being: An Introduction provides a framework for understanding not only economics as a subject, but also the historical and normative context that economics has been developed to help understand the policies designed to shape social provisioning and everyday lives. Deb Figart and Ellen Mutari provide a structure for understanding what economics is, beyond the narrow definitions taught in an Economics 101 course. This context is useful for social services practitioners to understand both the opportunities and the limits of economic policy in improving everyday well-being.

Kate Bahn, PhD
Chief economist
Washington Center for Equitable Growth
Washington, DC


This book makes complex economic concepts simple and offers clear definitions along with the voices of practitioners in the field. The data and examples are up to date, and each chapter ends with resources where the reader can learn more or find the latest information. It is an excellent resource for social work students and anyone wanting to better understand economic well-being.

Trina R. Shanks, PhD, LCSW
Director of community engagement
Harold R. Johnson collegiate professor
School of Social Work
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Co-lead, Social Work Grand Challenge to Reduce Extreme Economic Inequality
Economic Well-Being: An Introduction was reviewed by Sara Casagrande for the journal Forum for Social Economics.

Economic theory is expected to answer the two fundamental questions of how real economic systems work and how they should work to meet the goals of human societies. Orthodoxy explains, through an axiomatic approach, how an ahistorical economic system, made up of rational agents, works according to a set of unrealistic assumptions. Orthodox equilibrium economics, by postulating optimality and fairness, lacks realism and predictive power, and fails to properly incorporate ethical issues. This article reviews three contributions that demonstrate how modern heterodoxy aims to recover realism and humanism within economic theory in order to face the challenges of real-world human economic systems. These contributions are books by Deborah M. Figart and Ellen Mutari (Economic well-being: An introduction), John Komlos (Foundations of real-world economics. What every economics student needs to know), and John P. Watkins (The origins and evolution of consumer capitalism. A Veblenian–Keynesian perspective).

Read the full review. Available to subscribers of the Forum for Social Economics.

To hear an interview with the book’s authors, Deborah M. Figart and Ellen Mutari, listen to the NASW Social Work Talks podcast or watch the interview below!

Earn 9.5 CEUs for reading this title! For more information, visit the Social Work Online CE Institute.