Across global boundaries, America is known by millions of people as the paragon of the most affluent society in the contemporary world. With the widely believed concept of the American dream, the country is perceived as the proverbial Promised Land which hosts tons of millionaires and where even the lower classes live comfortably with superb rags to riches tales. This picture might be true but a plethora of research studies and surveys have also shown it is a superficial picture which does not wholly portray contemporary America. Recent surveys have established that currently an approximate forty million Americans live in poverty regardless of the country’s affluence. The magnitude of the situation is established when it is realized that poverty in contemporary America is a pervasive and long lasting social problem that has scarred the lives of vulnerable children and their families. Although pertinently hidden, poverty has devastating social effects in cities and suburbs alike which are best understood after the term poverty in a social context is explored[ CITATION Kor09 \l 1033 ].
Through relative definitions of poverty, Americans are considered to be living in a state of poverty if they do not have the means to have a decent means of existence. In essence means that they lack access to basic amenities like shelter, food and health. Poverty in America is hence a complicated social phenomenon which culminates itself best as a social problem. In the country poverty is often blamed on the individual but it cannot be denied that social structures often exacerbate the poverty levels. The goal of this paper therefore is to explore how poverty is a social problem in urban America.
To achieve this goal, the paper has been divided into the four major causes/effects of poverty namely jobs, drugs, education and social programs for the poor. All the sections will be a detailed account of how poverty through the particular tenets has become a social problem for urban America. The paper will then be a concluded by a summary of the events explored and a reflection of how poverty is a social problem in America. To explore poverty as a social menace, it is imperative to begin by exploring how the lack of jobs leads to poverty which culminates in a myriad of social problems.
Unemployment is a word that an increasing number of Americans have intimate knowledge of and it is little wonder that employment is ranked as the most important social problem that is facing Americans in the twenty first century. Unemployment has imperiled the very fabric of American human society as no catastrophe in the history of business problems has before. For more than tens of years since the advent of the great depression, Americans have experienced the collective and personal that is unemployment- years of suffering from its myriad effects, years of futile attempts of trying to eradicate unemployment and years of enduring the catastrophe. The magnitude of the problem is realized when it is established that a high percentage of Americans term unemployment as the major problem that is plaguing the country.
The intricate relationship between poverty, hunger and unemployment continues to be a vicious cycle. Unemployment has been documented to fuel the spread of poverty and consequently hunger by a large degree. Results of the last census established that approximately fifty million Americans- sixteen percent of the population were living below the official poverty line. This statistics are not only astounding but scary to say the least; it is a sad statistic that one every five American children lives in poverty ironically in one of the wealthiest nations of the world. Regardless of food stamps which have been ultimately stretched many Americans including children often go to bed with little or no food due to unemployment. Statistics that elaborate how unemployment has become a social problem are alarming to say the least. For instance the department of agriculture recently reported that sixteen percent of Americans lacks access to adequate food while the New York Times reported that a large number of Americans heavily relied on food stamps. Although lack of food tops the list due its status as a basic necessity, lack of jobs has other social problems[ CITATION Kor09 \l 1033 ].
Unemployment also has a number of undesirable social effects and topping this list is the increase in crime. As many Americans are unable to meet their basic needs they often resort to crime so as to survive. Many Americans who wallow in poverty ironically have jobs but these jobs cannot alleviate the poverty in their lives even though they are working full time. But for an increase in crime levels, many Americans have been rendered homeless due to the lack of jobs. Those who are very lucky to have roofs over their heads have to be content with the deplorable conditions that come with the housing. The low income home energy assistance program is experiencing an alarmingly increasing rate of its caseload. With the advent of unemployment, many Americans have also been unable to pay for basic utility services like electricity, water and heating- services that are basic in an environment like America’s which at times has bitter colds. Suffice to say as unemployment rates increase, the number of people who are unable to pay their rent/mortgage increases and thousands have been forced to go to the streets. Across many states in the country shantytowns are emerging on a daily basis where people live in shacks made with cheap materials that lack the basic utility services. These deplorable living conditions have led to other social problems like drug abuse.
Although research that links substance abuse and poverty is limited, majority of researchers agree that substance abuse that is fueled by poverty has a myriad of social problems. Substance abuse in itself is found at all income levels and is already a social problem not only in America but in many countries. However the problems that result from drug abuse are more devastating for the poor Americans who already survive on society’s margins. Ultimately this is because substance abuse and the dangers associated with it compound the difficulties of those who are struggling in poverty. However the catastrophic effects of drug abuse affect the entire American society as the menace in itself costs the country billions of dollars a year.
Many Americans have perceptions that drug abuse is a personal problem and not a social problem that plagues the whole country. However these misconceptions which are based on the belief that drug users live in different society segments are unfounded. Most of the drug users are what can be termed as normal Americans for instance the poor who are egged to substance abuse so as to forget the perils of poverty. Poverty induced substance abuse is as such a modern American social problem which best manifest itself through increased crime rates which affect everyone. It is however worth noting that while substance abuse is a social problem for all Americans irrespective of socio-economic background, the effects of substance abuse are largely felt by the poor. For instance neighborhoods with deplorable conditions which house the market are often the places where the illegal drug markets flourish. Consequently, crime and violence is higher in these communities. The poor also lack the ability of getting comprehensive treatment programs that would help them to overcome dependence. It is noteworthy that the effects of substance abuse and poverty in general mostly affect the school going children.
Poverty is a vicious cycle in America that is largely perpetuated by the lack of quality education. It has been documented that children from poor families have a higher chance of dropping out of school due to the prevailing factors at home. Kornblum and Julian assert that social problems are issues that relate to a society and impact on the quality of our life[ CITATION Kor09 \l 1033 ]. The authors further argue that social problems rarely exist in isolation and on basis of these assertions it can be argued that lack of education leads to many social problems. Poor education or lack of education can lead to vices like substance abuse, violence, crime, sexually risky behavior and ultimately in poverty. America as a country has high levels of social inequalities when it comes to education; suburbs are known to produce high level graduates while the public schools in the inner cities have higher rates of drop outs. But perhaps the greatest revelation of education being viewed as an American social problem was the no child left behind policy initiated by President Bush which emphasized on accountability of results amongst other principles.
Arguably, lack of quality education is at the core of a myriad of many American social problems. The poorly educated have been documented to engage in sexually risky behavior and more so because of the culture of misinformation that goes hand in hand with the lack of education. Consequently, this culture that has embraced ignorance while frowning upon information is exacerbating the social problems that America has while being a social problem in itself. America is plagued by a culture where teachers are undervalued and underpaid and as a result the lack of education is leading to many social problems. A plethora of research has established that sexual attitudes/ practices, crime and poverty are largely fueled by the lack of access to education in America. Sadly this state perpetuates poverty in America where the poor remain poor; misinformation leads to bad decisions and the poor are left to embrace the vicious cycle of poverty. This vicious cycle of poverty will not break unless policies like ‘no child left behind’ are fully implemented in the entire American country.
5.0 Social Programs for the Poor
Kornblum and Julian asserted that social problems do not occur in isolation and that they affect the quality of life[ CITATION Kor09 \l 1033 ]. With respect to social programs hereinafter referred to as the welfare system although created with the best of intentions have arguable perpetuated the cycle of poverty. Americans from the ideological and political spectrums have an almost universal acknowledgement that the social programs for the poor have been a failure. Since the advent of the welfare programs in 1965, the country has spent trillions of dollars in trying to alleviate poverty. Regardless of the staggering amount of money spent on welfare more and more Americans are wallowing in poverty. It is worth noting that the poor are becoming increasingly dependent on welfare programs for their survival and for many this is their sole means of existence.
The welfare program is as such at the heart of the social problems that are plaguing America. It may have been invented with the best of intentions, but the program has ended by being unfair to the entire American nation. It has been unfair to the taxpayers who fund it, it has been unfair to the society with its fundamental institutions like the church and family being disregarded and ultimately it has been unfair to the poor are trapped in a vicious cycle which has destroyed opportunities for themselves and sadly for their children. The programs may be henceforth perceived by many as a tool for fighting poverty but it cannot be denied that they are exacerbating the social problems that contemporary America is facing.
Social problems do not occur in isolation and anything that is termed by the larger community as having negative consequences on the quality of lives is a social problem. This paper explored how poverty is a social problem in urban America. In a summary it can be said that poverty through tenets like unemployment and poor education leads to social problems like homelessness, increase in crime rates, psychological effects and economic costs just to name a few of the adverse social problems that result from poverty.
Kornblum, W., & Julian, J. (2009). Social Problems (Third ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.