America is reported to be officially out of the recession of 2008; yet Americans are contending with the steepest unemployment rates since the 1960s. A Rockefeller Foundation study estimated that in 2009, 20 percent of households lost 25 percent or more of their income. Confidence in the economy is low and fears of a double-dip recession or worse are high.
With vulnerable populations facing such challenging circumstances, we need to think about the forces today that will shape the future of vulnerability tomorrow. What will vulnerability in America look like in 2030? How will key economic, policy, social, environmental and other factors evolve over the next two decades? Can we envision the different ways in which the future might unfold, and the kind of actions we might take today that could most effectively improve the health and well being of vulnerable people across a variety of different future conditions?
To explore these questions, we worked with the Institute for Alternative Futures on a scenario planning process that helps us to understand how our society could change over the next two decades. The scenarios highlight implications and questions for how those working in philanthropy–and across all sectors–can plan for future conditions to improve the outlook for vulnerable populations.
The following is a quick overview of the four scenarios we considered:
Scenario 1: COMEBACK?
The economy rebounds after the Great Recession. Education improves and benefits most families. But automation and offshoring prevent many jobs from ever coming back. Governments are constrained by their debts. Despite some improvements, the ranks of the vulnerable expand.
Scenario 2: DARK DECADES
The double-dip recession is followed by peak oil in 2016. Prices for energy and food rise rapidly while low- and middle-income jobs continue to disappear. Government services and payments are cut severely, while vulnerability rises significantly.
Scenario 3: EQUITABLE ECONOMY
A depression follows the Great Recession. Massive unemployment and hardship prompt a shift in values that leads to an economy that is fair and works for all. Governments are forced to be effective and education advances opportunity across populations. Vulnerability is reduced.
Scenario 4: CREATIVE COMMUNITIES
The economy recovers. High debt levels limit what federal and state governments can do. Families and communities become more self-reliant and entrepreneurial. Technology yields low-cost energy and food. Communities develop local currencies, barter services, and support innovation. Vulnerability is reduced.
The scenarios allow us to anticipate what might be, to imagine, to check assumptions, to leave less to chance, and to act in smarter ways to enhance the impact of our efforts and resources. The optimal response is to develop strategies that will work across a range of different conditions and the time to start identifying such strategies and solutions is now, guided by thoughtful, provocative tools.
Interested in applying the scenarios to inform your planning and programming? We’ve added valuable resources to this page to help you better understand the scenario process we used and how you can apply this research to your efforts. We suggest you start by listening to either one of the recordings from our March 22 and April 12 webinars. We also encourage reading the Vulnerability 2030 report and watching the individual scenario videos- in-depth pictures of four possible outcomes for the future. After that, print off the workshop agenda and small group worksheet to help you conduct a futures planning process on your own. We hope you will share with us how you are using the scenarios in your work.