Trends in Equity Shaping Human Needs and Human Services

As a prelude to the release of the Human Progress and Human Services 2035 scenarios and main report in the upcoming months, we are sharing forecasts for some of the potential disruptive developments (positive and negative) shaping human needs and human services.

In this post, we cover equity rising, the growing values of equity and inclusion in the US.

Previously we wrote on job loss to automation, and new jobs that automation will create.

Upcoming posts will cover:

  • The wide range of options for dealing with the shortage of attainable housing,
  • “Abundance advances” – technology developments in energy, food, 3-D printing, and shared services that could lower the cost of living,
  • Guaranteed basic income and related long-term income supports, and
  • The Human Services Value Curve, the evolving vision of human services from that community.

Equity Rising and The Future of Human Progress and Human Services

By Clem Bezold, Chairman and Senior Futurist, and Mary Carenbauer, Futurist

How might the US significantly reduce or even eliminate poverty over the years to 2035? In the visionary Human Progress and Human Services 2035 scenarios (3 and 4), we explore potential pathways to such human progress. One of the driving forces is the growth of equity as a shared value that leads to changes in attitudes, practices, and policies.

Equity ensures that each person has what they may need to succeed. It is a different approach to fairness than equality, which promotes treating everyone the same. Equity acknowledges that not everyone is equally or fairly positioned in society. This relates to human and social services by helping to understand how to best distribute and redistribute resources.

Using equity as a guiding value, poverty can be reduced, wealth can be built, and social progress can be achieved. It has already driven and continues to drive movements for social, political and economic changes in the US and globally. Along the way, equity as a value has become more refined in recent decades, accompanied by attitudes supporting inclusion and rejecting exclusion. Some of these movements focus on race or gender within the larger framework of equity. These are sometimes understood as social justice movements, and are responses to oppression, injustice, inequity or driven by other cultural ideologies for progress.

This trend reflects society changing its mind about fairness and what differences are acceptable. This happened with slavery, spanning decades in the 19th century. It required a civil war and a constitutional amendment to accomplish. Slavery was followed by Jim Crow laws, discrimination and lynching. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented a major indicator of society’s mind change on discrimination. Other mind changes include voting rights for women, environmental protections, employment and pay equity, education. More recently the relative rapid protection of LGBTQ rights and gay marriage reflect ongoing changes of mind (and heart).

In all of these cases, unfairness has certainly not totally disappeared. But discrimination and other offences are no longer legally acceptable. This rise of equity reflects a maturing of thought on the components of opportunity – a recognition of social and economic determinants, including structural racism and exclusion. The growth of this awareness can be traced to many developments in the US and globally.

Equity is a powerful lens to understand human services and human progress, and the equity movement is a real and tangible pathway to evolve them. The “equity rising” trend is therefore forecast in Scenarios 3 and 4 of the Human Progress and Human Services 2035 Scenarios to play a significant role in the transformations of policies, local attitudes, and local development.

Evidence of Equity Rising

One manifestation of these mind changes are broadly shared visions or goals. Globally, the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 and their successor Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the major shared goals developed collectively by the nations of the world (1). These consciously include equity in calling for elimination of poverty and hunger, gender equality, reduced inequality, quality education, water and sanitation, peace and justice.

In the U.S., the growing focus on equity is illustrated in the Healthy People objectives for the nation that set goals for the coming decade. In the late 1990s, the nation set its Healthy People 2010 objectives including two overarching goals: “increase quality and years of healthy life” and “eliminate health disparities.” For 2020, these goals were amended to say, “achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups.” The draft 2030 overarching goals include “eliminate health disparities, achieve health equity, and attain health literacy to improve the health and well-being of all.”

Health equity is a component of equity and the public health community defines health equity as a “state in which every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of socioeconomic or environmental conditions” (2).

In the global health arena, the WHO in its 1998 restatement of the definition of “health for all” added the commitment to the ethical concepts of equity, solidarity and social justice and a gender perspective, while emphasizing the importance of reducing social and economic inequities in improving health of the whole population (3).

In the US, the CDC increased its focus on health equity and the social determinants of health in the 2000s. In state and local government, equity and health equity offices were created in a large number of jurisdictions. Furthermore, budgeting and policy making consciously adopted an “equity lens” to determine the distribution of services by considering neighborhood-level disparities in income, infrastructure and other conditions (4).

Drivers to the Equity Movement

One of the major drivers of embracing equity is the rise of a challenging force – growing inequity. Its harm to economies, communities and human progress are becoming increasingly known and felt. Below are examples of inequities which are increasing in severity and impact, drawing attention and action to address them.

Health inequality

Low socioeconomic status and the likelihood of poor health are significantly correlated. The health divides between the highest and lowest income populations in the US are at levels which are some of the worst in the world (5).

Wealth and income disparity

Wealth inequality is worsening in the US. According to a 2017 article in the Washington Post, “the richest 1 percent now owns more of the country’s wealth than at any time in the past 50 years” (6).

As with health disparities, wealth and income disparity are even more marked between racial groups in the US. For example, for every $100 in White family wealth, Black families hold just $5.04 (7). And higher than one in four Black households have zero or negative net worth, in contrast to the less than one in ten White families without wealth or net worth (8).

Inequality can weaken the economy, worsen crime and resentment. That is, wealth inequity can have harmful future impacts on the economy.

Incarceration rates

Criminal justice and incarceration rates in the US are greatly uneven across racial lines. While the US has very high incarceration rates compared to other developed nations, there is also a stark difference in incarceration rates across White, Black and Hispanic populations. Hispanics and Blacks make up around 32% of the US population but comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. And while Blacks and Whites use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate for Blacks for drug charges is nearly 6 times that of Whites (9).

Incarceration rates are not only economically inefficient and harmful, but family members, children and partners of those incarcerated also live with longstanding trauma.

Examples of Current Equity Movements

Equity movements are emerging across the globe and the US. Many of these movements have specific focuses on race or gender within the larger framework of equity. These are sometimes understood as social justice movements, and are responses to oppression, injustice, inequity or driven by other cultural ideologies for progress.

Black Lives Matter (10) is a national movement with more than 30 chapters which utilized social media to leverage political advocacy promoting racial justice and action against violence inflicted upon Black communities. Black Lives Matter brought conversations on privilege and race-based violence and oppression into national arenas, including political spheres.

The “Me Too” movement (11) is a national movement which has gained momentum in supporting survivors of sexual assault and promoting the end of sexual violence.

Movements for equal pay and equal treatment across genders have also gained national attention, as well as movements which support the rights of all people to be safe and respected in their gender orientation.

The Dreamers Movement and United We Dream movements (12) support immigrant rights and also have had success in influencing national policy.

Counter-Trends to Equity Rising

As with most major “mind changes,” there are periodic reversals or counter trends. Currently those include increased minority and immigrant hostility, the rise of white nationalism, the election of President Trump and many of the policies of his administration.

The forecast of “equity rising” argues that the support for equity, attention to policies and services that ensure opportunity to the excluded, and personal attitudes of inclusion will continue to grow, despite periodic reversals. This in turn will lead to support for the policy transformations and community inclusion featured in scenarios 3 and 4.

Equity in Public Policy and Social Services

Equity is an important value within public policy and social services delivery. Both the delivery of human services and the stigma around receiving services can evolve through the national embrace of equity as a guiding value. Many local governments are the “social equity first responders” (13), so to speak, to meet the needs of community members. So, local government has a powerful role to play in understanding the needs of communities in order to best empower community members. Federal government likewise has a role in shaping human services, as many of these programs are funded at least in part through federal funding streams.

Many of the states and local human and social service providers that participated in the Human Progress and Human Services 2035 Project exhibited different ways of embracing and integrating equity as a value into service delivery. These approaches – which range from community wealth building to improving equitable access to quality education – exemplify how vanguard leaders across the nation are currently using equity to better and more effectively deliver human services.



(1) See more:

(2) Source: HCPH Strategic Plan; Adapted from CDC, Promoting Health Equity. (2008). In Harris County Public Health, Health Equity Policy, Retrieved from

(3) World Health Organization. HEALTH21: An Introduction to the Health for All Policy Framework for the WHO European Region. European Health for All Series; No. 5, page 4. Retrieved from and

(4) See more:

(5) Health Affairs (2017), The United States Leads Other Nations In Differences By Income in Perceptions of Health and Health Care,

(6) Washington Post (2017), The richest 1 percent now owns more of the country’s wealth than at any time in the past 50 years,

(7) Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey cited in The New York Times (2017), Whites Have Huge Wealth Edge Over Blacks (but Don’t Know It),

(8) The Economic Policy Institute (2017), The Racial wealth gap: How African-Americans have been shortchanged out of the materials to build wealth,

(9) NAACP, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet”,

(10) See more:

(11) See more:

(12) See more:

(13) Governance Matters, Local Government: Social Equity ‘First Responders’,