The Great Recession of 2008–2010 has expanded the ranks and deepened the suffering of
vulnerable populations. Prior to this recession there were mixed signals—some populations
were doing better, while others remained marginal in their income and in their access
to employment, food, effective education and health care. So much change in just a
few years is a reminder that there is no single, certain future to plan for. There are many
plausible alternative futures, and planning for just one set of assumed future circumstances
is likely to miss the mark. We need to think about the forces that will shape the future of
vulnerability, the different ways that future might unfold, and the kind of actions today
that would be most effective across a variety of different future conditions.
This report sets out alternative scenarios of how our society and the vulnerable populations
within it could change over the next two decades. We believe these alternatives are all
possible, but they range well beyond what people usually allow themselves to consider.
They explore four different pathways: an expectable or “most likely” future, a challenging
or “hard times” future, and two different paths to surprising success in reducing
vulnerability, or “visionary” scenarios.
In April 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Vulnerable Populations
Portfolio awarded a grant to the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) to develop scenarios
describing the alternative futures of vulnerability and vulnerable populations in the
United States in the year 2030. The Vulnerable Populations Portfolio addresses the critical
connections between health and social circumstances