Social Problems: A Five Decade Review

Social Problems: A Five Decade Review



Social Problems: A Five Decade Review

As identified in previous readings, social problems are undesirable situations across the country and even the globe. Despite being a developed nation, the USA has had a protracted war with poverty. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “war on Poverty”. In his strategy to fight poverty, he targeted an improvement in education, increase in access to quality healthcare, access to economic resources for the poor in order to make ends meet, and increase in the number of jobs. Fifty years down the line, America has made visible steps towards ensuring that it completely eradicates poverty from its borders and ensure that people can be self-dependent. This paper analysis the state of poverty in the USA for the last fifty years and efforts that have been made to eradicate it. Using a major theoretical framework, the paper seeks to create deeper understanding of the problem and its impacts on the future of the society and finally suggesting how the situation can be remedied.

The percentage of the population in poverty in USA has reduced from 1968 to 2012. However, despite this, there is still a lot that will need to be done before the country completely gets rid of poverty. In .2012, approximately 49.7 million Americans were living below the poverty line. This included 13.4 million children. While USA is considered to be an economic power house, only 50% of the country’s lover income earners are able to make it out of this bracket over a period of 20 years. Further, the issue of poverty seems to be deep rooted. About 40% of the differences in the income of parents today is reflected in the children’s income in future. This shows the strong and lingering impacts that result from growing up in poverty. The battle with poverty in the USA has not been fought without the help of NGOs. Instead, for the last fifty years, the fight has been through a mutual understanding between the government and NGOs. A program that is designed to increase the level of economic security was used to lift over 45 million Americans from poverty in 2012 alone (So, 2014). Between 1968 and 2012, the program had lifted an average pf 27million people from poverty which culminates to avoiding approximately 1.2 billion “person years” of poverty during this period. Within this period, social security has also contributed a lot in ensuring that the elderly do not fall into poverty. In 2012, social security reduced the poverty rate by 8.5% among all individuals while it reduced the same by 39.9% among the people above the age of 65%. The unemployment Insurance (UI) reduced poverty by 0.8% (The Council of Economic Advisors, 2014). The change in employment status is significant to the country’s fight against poverty as unemployment is one of the main predictors of poverty. The rates of poverty have also fallen across all races and ethnic group and the gaps by race have slightly shrunk from those in the previously years. However, there are still major gaps that need to be speedily addressed. In 1995, approximately 60% of the African Americans were living in poverty compared to only 20% of the whites. Currently, the poverty rate for African Americans stands at 27.8%. However, this is still twice the rate for whites. This shows that the problem of poverty is not isolated from other social problems such as racism.

Sociologists have come up with different theories to approach the issue of poverty. One of the theories that they have relied on is the theory of social conflict. According to this theory, since there is an enormous amount of wealth in the modern societies, there is no reason why some parts of the population should live without access to t=essential amenities and meeting basic needs. According to conflict theorists, this situation only exists because the people in power want it to exist. They assert that the working poor are paid very low wages while their employers make huge profits from their work. For the unemployed, the social theorists view them as victims of this power structure. The wealthy impose great opposition on programs that can be used on eradicating unemployment such as job training and education because they do not want to support these projects through paying extra taxes. To escape blame, the wealthy people try to blame individualism as the main cause of poverty and state that it results from the poor failing to put in enough effort. They instead ignore the social injustices and circumstances that are beyond the control of individuals. Following this, the wealthy engage in charitable activities in the bid to help the poor. While the world applauds these efforts, social conflict theorists observe this as a way of the government and other wealthy people to perpetuate economic inequality and poverty (Ikejiaku, 2012). This is because welfares and the charities only serve to quell the social unrest that would otherwise threaten the status quo. By carefully analyzing the actions of the government and the wealthy, one realizes that the welfares and charities are a way of entrenching them and legitimizing their positions. When the poor are given handouts, all they do is that they learn to become dependent rather than independent. They also acknowledge that the rich and the government are at a higher economic status than they are. Due to these seemingly “acts of good faith”, the poor do not get the opportunity to sit and review the numerous injustices that they have suffered for them to remain in their position of poverty. Instead, they only think of thanking the government and other charities for providing a single day’s meal (Bobo & Fox, 2003). Further, social conflict theorists state that after a while, the poor accept the judgment that the rest of the people pass on them and they adjust to this life and actually portray signs of lack of ambition to come out of this class. The conflict theorists do not view poverty as being essential or functional in any way (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2009). Instead, they view it as a situation that arises because some people are eager to benefit from the poverty of other people. Poverty eventually becomes a problem if some people feel that the manner in which resources are distributed is unjust and that the situation should be remedied.

Social conflict theorists believe that the only way of resolving the current poverty crisis is through a political system that agrees to empower the poor. Any programs that are laid out without the agreement of the political class are doomed to fail. However, this is not likely to happen because the political class would like to remain in power. Therefore, the solution must come from the poor. The poor should become organized in political groups that can agitate for their rights (Kneebone & Berube, 2014). Currently, poverty is a social problem that has resulted in people from different corners expressing concerns. As a result, a social problem must be solved through a movement that closely engages the society. Therefore, it is only through political enlightenment that the poor can come out of the current situation. Since there are available resources for everyone, the only problem is the distribution. Therefore, the group that holds the powers of distribution determines the people likely to live in poverty. If the poor become politically enlightened, they will have the ability to champion for their rights and for a better system of distribution of resources (Kotler & Lee, 2009). Despite some theorists arguing that some of the people are poor because they do not work hard, with a weak foundation guiding policy making, it becomes very difficult for the people to come out of poverty. Therefore, an enlightened poor class is required to seize the opportunity and become politically enlightened so that it can demand for equal rights and creation of a system that is void of favoritism of the rich.

In conclusion, the paper shows the steps that the USA has made in tackling poverty. However, research shows that poverty still exists in the country. Borrowing from the social theorists shows that the reason for this poverty still existing is because there are classes that benefit from the poverty of other people. Therefore, until the poor are politically enlightened, the situation is likely to persist for a long time. As such, the paper shows that the solution for poverty lies in creating a high level of political awareness among the people.


Bobo, L., & Fox, C. (2003). Race, Racism, and Discrimination: Bridging Problems, Methods, and Theory in Social. Social Psychology Quarterly,Vol 66 No 14, 319-332.

Ikejiaku, B.-V. (2012). Poverty-Conflict Nexus: The Contentious Issue Revisited. European Journal of Sustainable Development 1(2), 127-150.

Kneebone, E., & Berube, A. (2014). Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. New York: Brookings Institution Press.

Kotler, P., & Lee, N. (2009). Up and Out of Poverty: The Social Marketing Solution. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.

So, G. (2014). From “Pockets of Poverty” to Potential Prosperity in Appalachia: Examining Mass Media Narratives of Poverty Stereotypes in Appalachia. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, Vol. 5, No. 2, 71-98.

The Council of Economic Advisors. (2014). The War on Poverty 50 Years Later: A Progress Report. The Council of Economic Advisers, 1-53.

Zastrow, C., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2009). Understanding human behavior and the social environment. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers

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