Chapter 2 Poverty and Wealth

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Transcript Chapter 2 Poverty and Wealth

Chapter 2
Poverty and Wealth
Economic Inequality in the
United States
• Social stratification:
– the system by which society ranks
categories of people in a hierarchy
• Stratification produces social classes
– categories of people who have similar
access to resources and opportunities
Economic Inequality in the
United States
• Any discussion of problems such as
poverty must include a discussion of
income and wealth
• Taxation is a common device used by
the government to reduce economic
The Rich and the Poor: A Social
• “The rich”: those families who fall within the
top 10 percent of income distribution.
• The “poverty line”: the level of annual income
below which a person or family is defined as
poor and thus entitled to government
• The “poverty gap”: the difference between
the official poverty line and the actual income
of the typical poor household
The Extent of Poverty
• Profile of the U.S. poor
– Age: at greatest risk are children
– Race: African Americans and Hispanics
– Gender: women
– Family Patterns: single mothers
– Region: the South and the West
Social Problems Linked to
• Poor health
– The link between poverty and health is
evident from birth to old age
– The infant mortality among the poor is
twice the national average and among the
poorest, four times the national
– Death comes earlier to the poor, who are
more likely to die from infectious diseases
and violence at any age
Social Problems Linked to
• Substandard housing
– About 500,000 people are homeless in the
U.S. on a given night
– Up to 2 million people are homeless at
some point during the year
– Low income coupled with a decrease in
available low-income housing leads to
Social Problems Linked to
• Limited schooling
– Poor children are less likely than rich
children to complete high school
– fewer poor children enter college and have
less of a chance of completing an
advanced degree
• Uncertain work and the working poor
Social Problems Linked to
• Crime and Punishment
– Due to the focus on street crime, the poor
are more likely to face arrest, trial,
conviction, and prison
– The poor depend more on public defenders
and court-appointed attorneys, most of
whom are underpaid and overworked
Responding to Poverty: The
Welfare System
• Social welfare program:an organized effort by
government, private organizations, or
individuals to assist needy people defined as
worthy of assistance
Responding to Poverty: The
Welfare System
• Large government-run welfare programs have
three characteristics:
– they direct money to specific categories of
– they benefit many people (e.g., the elderly,
veterans, students, and farmers); and
– they do not significantly change income
Social welfare has a long and
controversial history in the
United States
• The colonial era (the 1600s and 1700s);
• The earlier industrial era (the 19th century –
when attitudes toward the poor became more
• The twentieth century (with its soaring
immigration and the 1929 great depression,
and Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”)
Welfare Today
• Changes in the welfare system began to
occur when President Clinton pledged in 1992
to “end welfare as we know it.”
• The result was the Welfare Reform Act of
• The public remains divided over whether
people deserve help
Welfare Reform Act of 1996
• Replaced federal AFDC program with a
new state related program – Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
• New rules require able-bodied people
receiving benefits to find a job or enroll
for job retraining within two years.
Welfare Reform Act of 1996
• States can set their own qualifications
benefits, but must limit assistance to
two consecutive years with a lifetime
cap of five years.
• The program directs all states to move
half of single parents receiving welfare
into jobs or retraining by 2002.
Structural functional analysis:
Some poverty is inevitable
– Social pathology theories: focus on
personal deficiency
– Social disorganization theory: too much
– Contemporary functional theory: inequality
is useful
• Davis and Moore – inequality actually
helps society function efficiently
• Herbert Gans – poverty exists because
many people benefit from it
Symbolic Interaction Analysis:
Who’s to Blame?
• Explores the meanings that people attach to
those who are poor
• Criticism: although this approach points to
society as the cause of poverty, it says little
about how society makes some people poor
Symbolic Interaction Analysis:
Who’s to Blame?
• Based on research by William Ryan– Pick a social problem
– Decide how people who suffer from the
problem differ from everyone else
– Define these differences as the cause of
the problem
– Respond to the problem by trying to
change the victims, not the larger society
Social-Conflict Analysis: Poverty
Can Be Eliminated
• Marxist Theory: Poverty and Capitalism
• Poverty Involves More than Money: Cultural
• Multicultural Theory: Poverty, Race, and
• Feminist Theory: Poverty and Patriarchy
Politics and Poverty:
Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions
• Conservatives: Personal Responsibility
– focus on personal responsibility, stressing
the importance of self-reliance
• Liberals: Societal Responsibility
– view poverty as more structural than it is
individual; thus they look for societal
Politics and Poverty:
Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions
• Radicals: Change the System
– poverty is inherent in capitalist society,
– they dismiss social welfare programs and
tax plans advocated by liberals as little
more than a Band-Aid applied to the body
of a person with an incurable disease