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New report envisions what the future may hold for the human services sector and its leaders

Human Services

A new research report, “Human Progress and Human Services 2035: A Scenario Exploration,” examines what the future holds for human services in the United States, including how the sector will manage federal and state safety nets, government assistance, universal basic income, job training and employment in an era of automation and technology innovation.

The Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF), the largest think tank of futurists, with support from Kresge’s Human Services Program, developed this research to help the human services sector navigate what the future holds for social and economic services and mobility in the U.S. This paper is part of IAF’s larger Human Services 2035 project and is the result of scenario workshopping among agency heads and community leaders in Memphis, San Antonio, Richmond, Montgomery County Maryland, Jefferson County Colorado, San Diego County, Connecticut and Mississippi. This report merges the insights and recommendations from these national, state and local workshops.

This research analyzes the following future scenarios and how the sector should manage children, youth, family, aging and disability services, behavioral health, housing and income supports: 

  • Scenario 1: The Expected Future – The two decades between 2015 and 2035 were turbulent, with overall economic growth of 1 percent to 2 percent in most years, interspersed with mild recessions. But the economy and employment were transforming.
  • Scenario 2: A Challenging Future –  The need for human services grew, even though funding did not. The economy overall grew slowly for most of the two decades to 2035, with periodic recessions, including the Great Recession of 2023. This proved particularly challenging to employment, tax receipts and human service spending. The digitization of life continued for work and play – moving from the Internet, social media and smart phones to the internet of things, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. This improved many aspects of life and learning, but increased job loss to automation. Poverty and inequality increased.
  • Scenario 3: A Visionary Future and How to Build Human Potential – The economy continued to grow slowly and transform, including major shifts in employment. By 2025, there was a net loss of 7 percent of jobs to automation – this was followed by greater job loss in the years to 2035. Much remaining paid work shifted to piece work on the “gig economy.” Manufacturing evolved as home goods, electronics and even food could be 3D-printed locally or in the home.
  • Scenario 4: A Visionary Future and Creating Thriving Communities – The 2020s saw accelerated change in attitudes, economics and policies. The previous federal administration had ridden into office on discontent with the economy – but little was done for those long unemployed and those newly unemployed because of automation. The economy grew during the late 2010s as did unemployment, income inequality and gridlock in Washington. And that set up a major shift in policies and regulations in the 2020s driven by major value shifts.

Other local, state, and national leaders may use the scenarios to consider uncertainties, trends and forces that will shape human services and their organizations. 

The national Human Progress and Human Services 2035 scenarios and recommendations as well as those from the eight state and local efforts are available at and