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Essay Inequality as a Social Problem

By lakra23 Jul 21, 2015 896 Words
Social problems are conditions which undermine the well being of all or some members of a society that are also a matter of public controversy (Eitzen and Bakka-Zinn). Poverty is an important social problem around the world and in the U.S. it is mostly due to income inequality. The textbook tells us that the government defines poverty as families living with income below a poverty line roughly equal to three times the cost of food. Income is distributed unequally in the United States with the richest 20% of families earning more than ten times as much as the lowest paid 20% of families. We can find in the textbook that poverty can be defined from three theoretical points of view; the first one is the Structural-Functionalist perspective. This point of view argues that poverty is a result of personal flaws and that at least some poverty is a natural, expected part of life that has some useful consequences. One theory is that inequality helps society be productive by motivating people to develop their abilities and gain schooling with rewards such as higher income, power, and prestige, for the more important jobs, like that of a surgeon (Davis & Moore). The second point of view is the Symbolic-Interactionist perspective which is useful in showing that poverty is not simply an issue about money, it is also a matter of meanings, or how society views the poor. William Ryan suggests that instead of blaming the victim for their run-down housing or how little schooling they have, we should ask why society provides such housing and provides so little to people’s needs. The third is the Social-Conflict perspective. In opposition to the Structural-Functionalist this perspective takes the view that poverty is not natural and rejects the idea that is results from flaws in people; but is caused by flaws in society. One theory is that poverty results from the operation of capitalism. As believed by Karl Marx, poor people suffer from less cultural capital as well as less money. These theoretical perspectives are part of the Sociological Imagination, which C. Wright Mills defines as the ability to see the impact of social forces on individuals’ private and public lives (the sociological imagination mini lecture). The different beliefs debate whether the solution to poverty requires changes to the economy, to society, or to the individuals affected by poverty.

A subjective reality will be based more on a personal opinion and an objective reality will be based more on facts and statistics. Although any social problem requires both of these realities, people tend to use their personal opinion to determine their view on a subject. For example Irene Pisano commented on poverty that (discussion “defining the limits of human nature”) :“ Using the structural functionalist approach Herbert Spencer's social Darwinism describes it as 'survival of the fittest' with society being competitive in nature where the most able become rich and the least able find themselves living in poverty. After studying poor communities in an effort to find out why some neighborhoods stay poor from generation to generation, Oscar Lewis came to the conclusion that they have cultural patterns that make poverty a way of life. Lewis said that people adapt to poverty and give up on the idea/dream that life can get better. Living without hope for a better life causes people to turn to alcohol and drugs, become violent, neglect their families and end up living in the moment. This is how poverty gets passed on from one generation to the next.” Although part of this theory is based on statistics, determining whether or not the poor live without hope for a better life is based more on a general opinion. The only people that favor from income inequality are the wealthy. Wealth is even more unequally distributed that income, with the richest 20% of families controlling 84% of all privately owned wealth, while the poorest 20% of families are actually in debt. Many are harmed by this problem though; this is called Structural Violence (structural violence mini lecture). In 2005 an estimated 37 million people were affected by poverty. At great risk of poverty are children, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. A generation ago, the elderly were most likely to be poor but today children make up 35% of the U.S. poor. Of the women, single mothers have a higher risk of being poor; if the single mother is a minority or young then the risk is even higher. Geographical location also has an effect on poverty, for example, poverty is lowest in areas that offer more jobs and educational opportunities such as suburbs, and is much higher in central cities. Between 1960 and 2005 the official poverty rate fell by almost half, most of which happened by the early 1970’s. The overall trend has been slightly upward since then. We can see that although we cannot determine the future outcome and progression of poverty, it has changed and will continue to change. There are different points of view on the subject and which one we choose will always be based on our personal beliefs. There will never be one right or wrong theory since people have and will always have different opinions. Nonetheless, poverty is one of many social problems that I hope will die down in the future to come.

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