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Social Problems in Society: Poverty

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Select a social problem to define, describe the scope and consequences of the problem, and assess society's responses to the problem (including public policies and other less formal responses).

- What is the social problem?
- Why does this problem qualify as a "social problem"?
- What are the individual and social implications of this problem? Discussion of implications should be supported by accurate research data.
- What do the experts say about the problem?
- What have we, as a society, done about this problem? Again, consider public policies and other less formal responses.
- How is this working?
- Describe an alternative.
- Discuss why the alternative is, or can be, an effective response to the problem. Remember to consider negative consequences of the alternative response.

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Poverty in the United States has begun to pull apart the nation to a degree unknown in the last twenty-five years. A decade of strong national economic growth in the 1990s left many of America's communities falling far behind median national measures of economic health. Despite the investments in transportation and other public infrastructure, massive movements of capital and people, and the expectations of most regional economists over the past forty years, the nation's regional development patterns are becoming more uneven. Income inequality is on the rise. The number of communities falling behind the national economic average is increasing. This tendency has been most pronounced in recent years, where trade liberalization and globalization has greatly opened the American economy (Penn State EMS Environment Institute from the Ford Foundation, 2012). The result of these economic changes has been a flattening of the middle class, an increase in the request and need for government services, and a significant loss of health care and benefits to millions of Americans.

Sociology defines a social problem as an issue of human welfare that has its roots or causes as a result of social processes. The economic travails of the late 1990's that have continued to the present themselves certainly fit within the parameter of the definition of a social problem. The existence of poverty is due to the economic system being organized in ways that encourage the accumulation of wealth at one end and creates conditions of scarcity that make poverty inevitable at the other. But the capitalist system generates poverty in other ways as well. In the drive for profit, for example, capitalism places a high value on competition and efficiency. This motivates companies and their managers to control costs by keeping wages as low as possible and replacing people with machines or replacing full-time workers with part-time workers. It makes it a rational choice to move jobs to regions or countries where labor is cheaper and workers are less likely to complain about poor working conditions, or where laws protecting the natural environment from industrial pollution or workers from injuries on the job are weak or unenforced.

Capitalism also encourages owners to shut down factories and invest money elsewhere in enterprises that offer a higher rate of return (Johnson, 2010). Indeed, poverty appears to be inevitable, so long as capitalism continues to exist. So long as money continues to be valued more than the individual, poverty will remain a fixed problem in the United States. The generation of low-paying jobs only feeds into, ...

Solution Summary

A discussion of how poverty is a social problem in the United States.