You must address at least two different questions embedded in the lecture notes

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You must address at least two different questions embedded in the lecture notes

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Explaining Poverty in the United States1 In the previous lecture we discussed the class system. The focus of this lecture will be the bottom part of the class system. Specifically, we will examine poverty in the United States. We will first look at the data on poverty, and in the second part of the lecture, I will present various theories of poverty. I. Poverty Demographics In this section I will focus on the demographics of poverty. I will begin by defining poverty; then I will look at the kinds of individuals and families most likely to be poor. Let’s first look at how the federal government determines the poverty line. The poverty line, or poverty threshold, is defined as the annual income that a household must be at or below to be considered poor. The poverty line is determined by calculating the annual cost of food that a family of a particular type and size will need and multiplying that number by three. The cost of food is multiplied by three to cover the cost of other necessities such as clothing and housing. The poverty calculation is actually a bit more complicated than that, but that is roughly how they do it.2 We need to be careful when interpreting the poverty numbers. Though the poverty calculation includes direct cash aid, it does not include noncash benefits such as food stamps, MediCal (health insurance for the poor in California), or subsidized housing. Noncash benefits can be substantial. Who is counted as poor is also determined before 1 Lecture notes are written as lecture notes and therefore are not cited as would be required for publication. Please do not reference these notes outside of this class. 2 For more information on the calculation of the poverty line, go to 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 1 2017101223254316_f_poverty taxes are taken out or income tax credits are received. Tax credits in the form of the earned income tax credit (EITC) can be substantial. In the 2015 tax year, the maximum credit for a family with three or more qualifying children was $6,242, and for a family with two qualifying children, it was $5,548.3 So a family counted as below the poverty line can actually have a substantially higher level of income. In 2014, for a family with one adult and two dependent children (this is the typical family receiving welfare), the poverty line was set at $19,073.4 Since poverty is calculated by household, all members in a household below the poverty threshold are considered poor. So, how many people living in the US are poor? The poverty rate (the percent of individuals that are poor) has fluctuated from about 11 to 15 percent since the mid-1960s. In 2014, the poverty rate was 14.8 percent. The number of people living in poverty was 46.7 million. The figure below shows how the poverty rate has fluctuated since 1959. 3 4,,id=150513,00.html 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 2 2017101223254316_f_poverty Let’s now talk about the kinds of people that are more likely to be poor. In 2014, children were more likely to be poor than adults. 21.1 percent of all children under 18 years old were poor. This compares unfavorably to 13.5 percent of all 18-to-64-year olds and to 10 percent for all seniors aged 65 and over. Notice in the figure below that in the 1960s, the poverty rate for seniors was much higher than for children or adults. Recall that in 1964, President Johnson began a War on Poverty ( A great deal of the reduction in the elderly poverty rate is due to the impact of Social Security, Medicare and other such programs. Why do you think the poverty rate of children is so high today? Post your comments to our discussion board. 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 3 2017101223254316_f_poverty When we look at poverty by race and ethnicity, we find that racial and ethnic minorities are much more likely to be poor than non-Hispanic whites. In 2014, people that reported Black as their only race had a poverty rate of 26.2 percent, and people of Hispanic origin had a poverty rate of 23.6 percent. These percentages compare unfavorably to 10.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites and 12.0 percent of Asians. Poverty also varies by family type. Individuals that live in female householder, no husband present families are more likely to be poor than any other family type. The Census reported that female householder, no husband present families had a poverty rate of 30.6 percent in 2014. This compares unfavorably with male householder, no wife present families with a poverty rate of 15.7 percent and very unfavorably with marriedcouple families with a poverty rate of 6.2 percent. Some people have argued that the solution to poverty is marriage. The problem with that idea is that though poor women want to get married, the men in their lives are like the jobs in their lives, lousy. On the 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 4 2017101223254316_f_poverty other hand, we know that when men get married, they start to act a little more responsibly and are a little less likely to get into trouble. What do you think? Is marriage the solution to poverty? Post your comments to our discussion board. Also, though most poor adults do not work, many of them do. In 2014, 16.4 million poor individuals 18-64 years of age did not work even one week. However, 10.2 million poor individuals 18-64 years of age did, and 3.1million of those worked full-time year-round. So even though most poor adults do not work, significant numbers of them do, many working full-time and year-round. And as might be expected given our discussion on intergenerational mobility in the last lecture, research has shown that there is about a 0.40 correlation between fathers’ and sons’ income. For those near the bottom of the class system, about one in four who were consistently poor before age seventeen were still poor at ages twenty-five to twentyseven. For African Americans, the odds were worse; about one in three were still poor at ages twenty-five to twenty-seven; this is compared to one in twelve for whites. Poverty also seems to be difficult to permanently avoid once you have experienced it. When measuring poverty on an annual basis (the most common way), about half of those who end poverty spells return to poverty within four years. Approximately 50 percent of black and 30 percent of whites who fall into poverty in some year will be poor in five or more of the next ten years. Another concern that sociologists that study poverty have is the spatial concentration of poverty in American cities. In the 19th century the poor were generally, with some exceptions in large cities, clustered into pockets and alleyways near the homes of the affluent. However, beginning in the 1920s with improvements in transportation and 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 5 2017101223254316_f_poverty the rise of the automobile industry, which made the suburban lifestyle more accessible, spatial segregation by race and class began to emerge. After World War II, middle-class whites moved in significant numbers to the suburbs. The Code of the Street illustrates the problems associated with the geographical concentration of poverty in the inner city. Finally, the experience of poverty seems to be a bit more common than what you might expect. A relatively high proportion of people have experienced poverty at one point or another, even though the majority of poor individuals remain poor for only short periods of time. One study found that one in three Americans experienced at least one year in poverty between 1979 and 1991. Now that we have a sense of the numbers in poverty, I want to now examine how poverty can be explained. II. Theories of Poverty In this section we will discuss six theories of poverty: the biological approach, the functionalist approach, the cultural capital approach, the social structural approach, and the culture of poverty approach. Let's begin with the biological approach. A. Biological Approach One of the earliest and most influential theories of poverty is social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is a misapplication of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory. From this perspective, inequality is natural—those who prove themselves superior in the competitive struggle are superior from birth and their strength lies in their genes. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903, English philosopher) was the major social Darwinist during his time. He popularized the term "evolution" and coined the now-ubiquitous phrase, 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 6 2017101223254316_f_poverty "survival of the fittest." He and the social Darwinists of the 19th and early 20th century believed that the poor were poor because they were biologically less “fit” than others. Though few sociologists today believe that deficient biology adequately explains poverty, this was a quite popular understanding of poverty in the 19th and early 20th centuries.5 Later eugenicists extended social Darwinism by arguing that evolution could be sped up by selective breeding. In the United States, these ideas were in part the motivation for anti-miscegenation laws and the severe restrictions placed on immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.6 There are still some today that believe in the biological basis for 5 Spencer believed that the less intelligent will become extinct and the more intelligent will survive. However, this beneficial evolutionary process will be fatally upset if government intervenes to help the poor. Aiding the weak and idle and providing welfare interferes with the laws of nature. Spencer writes, Blind to the fact, that under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillating, faithless, members, these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation . . . And thus, in their eagerness to prevent the really salutary sufferings that surround us, these sigh-wise and groan-foolish people bequeath to posterity a continually increasing curse. ("Poverty Purifies Society," orig. pub. 1851) 6 If it was true that through the process of evolution the human race is improving itself, could this process be sped up? That's what the eugenicists believed. Eugenics is the study of human genetics and of methods to improve the inherited characteristics, physical and mental, of the human race. Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911, English scientist, founder of eugenics, introduced the term eugenics, cousin of Charles Darwin) emphasized the role of factors under social control that could either improve or impair the qualities of future generations. According to this perspective, there are some individuals and groups that are inferior to others and therefore, should not be allowed to reproduce. The first half of the 20th century saw extreme coercive application of eugenic principles by governments ranging from miscegenation laws and enforced sterilization of the insane in the United States and other nations to the Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Since blacks were considered genetically inferior, intermarriage with genetically superior whites should not be allowed. The same argument was used to drastically limit the numbers of immigrants that came from Eastern and Southern Europe (since they would degrade the racial stock of the country). Regulated eugenics continues in some parts of the world; China enacted restrictions on marriages involving persons with certain disabilities and diseases in 1994. In the United States in recent years, interest in eugenics has centered around genetic screening. It is known, for example, that hemophilia, albinism, and certain structural abnormalities are inheritable. Family gene maps, called pedigrees, can help families with serious diseases avoid having children with the same diseases through genetic counseling, and, increasingly, prospective parents can be tested directly for the presence of undesired genes. If conception has occurred, tests such as amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling can be used to detect certain genetic defects in the fetus. 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 7 2017101223254316_f_poverty stratification, for example, the late Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in the book the Bell Curve.7 B. The Functionalist Approach Another approach to understanding poverty is the functionalist approach. Herbert Gans argues that the poor serve positive functions, and therefore they are necessary. In his discussion of the positive functions of the undeserving poor, he is actually making two points. First, the poor are necessary because they serve positive functions, and second, labeling the poor as undeserving serves positive functions. Before getting into our discussion of how labeling the poor as undeserving serve positive functions, let’s look first at how the existence of the poor serves positive functions. Here are some examples: The poor serve as “hypothetical workers.” They can be used to depress the wages of workers or to put pressure on unions to not make wage and other demands. The poor do undesirable work. The poor will do the work that others will not do (for example, sell drugs, prostitute themselves, and other jobs in the underground economy). The poor will perform services that others want but few in the middle class will do. The poor create jobs for the nonpoor. The mere presence of the poor creates jobs for the better-off population, including professional ones (e.g., social workers, drug treatment centers, police, judges, prison guards, sociologists, and charity organizations). The poor serve as negative role models (E.g., the poor can be used to encourage the children of the middle class to work hard and do well in school, because if they don’t, they could end up homeless.). The poor benefit the economy by buying things that the middle class will not buy, for example, dilapidated homes, old cars, and stale 7 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 8 2017101223254316_f_poverty bread. To eliminate poverty, then, would be to lose many positive functions. So from the functionalist perspective, poverty persists because it serves many positive functions. Gans also notices that the poor are labeled as having deficient values and attitudes. The stereotype of the poor as lazy, immoral, and criminal is old. For example, in the first century BC, Cicero (106 to 46 BC) described the needy of Rome as criminals. The labeling of the poor as undeserving, Gans argues, serves many positive functions. One positive function of labeling the poor as undeserving is risk reduction. According to Gans, by labeling the poor as underserving, we justify our avoidance of them thereby reducing the risk associated with interacting with them. As we stay away from the poor, they are less able to corrupt the morals of our children and less able to steal from us or do physical harm to us. Another positive function is scapegoating and displacement. By labeling the poor as undeserving, we can blame the poor for many societal problems. Who is to blame for the bad economy? It is the poor who are too lazy to get a job. Who do we blame for high taxes? It is the poor who live off of welfare. Who do we blame for moral decay? It is the poor single-parent mothers who have babies out of wedlock. But who is it that really has those negative qualities? It is the middle class. Gans says that we displace our negative characteristics and our hatred for those that have them onto the poor. Who is it that really is lazy? It is us who spend hours hanging out with friends, texting, listening to music or watching TV, or on the internet instead of studying or working. Who is it that really is dependent on the government? It is the middle class. For example, this class you are taking is mostly funded by taxpayers. Who is it that really has loose morals? It is the middle class who often have sex without love or live together with our partner without 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 9 2017101223254316_f_poverty being married. According to Gans, rather than hating ourselves, we displace our hatred of ourselves onto the poor. Another function of labeling the poor as undeserving is moral legitimation. By labeling the poor as undeserving, we are able to justify the class hierarchy. As we believe that we somehow worked hard and struggled to make it into the middle class, those that have not are seen as less competent. By labeling the poor as underserving, we believe that we deserve our middle-class status, rather than seeing the unfairness that perpetuates the class hierarchy. Another function of labeling the poor as undeserving is norm reinforcement. The poor are seen as violators of middle-class norms. Their violations or perceived violations help to reaffirm and reinforce middle-class norms. For example, when poor single mothers are condemned, the two-parent family is strengthened as the ideal. Or for example, when the poor is imagined as lazy, the protestant work ethic is affirmed. Gans argues that labeling the poor as undeserving functions to push politics to the right, what he calls conservative power shifting. As the poor are seen as underserving, they loose their political legitimacy and therefore political influence. As the poor then are unable to participate significantly in the political process, the political debate moves to the right. As the poor lose political power, they are ineffective in advancing their views on the welfare state, the criminal justice system, health care, and other issues that impact the poor. Let me mention just one more positive function. By labeling the poor as undeserving, they can be banished from work. The poor, as they are banished from working, allows for the employment of immigrant workers, who may work for lower 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 10 2017101223254316_f_poverty wages, are more deferential, and are more easily exploitable by being threatened with deportation. The functionalist perspective, as argued by Gans, sees poverty as functional. However, Gans does not believe that poverty should not eliminated because it serves positive functions, rather, his point is that because it serves positive functions, it is very difficult to eliminate. C. Cultural Capital Approach Another approach to understanding poverty is the cultural capital approach. By cultural capital, what Pierre Bourdieu8 is referring to is the knowledge and skills that can potentially be converted into material capital. Bourdieu argues that the chances for economic success are not the same for everyone. Those with more capital are more likely to succeed. However, there is a tendency to think of capital as only material capital, material wealth. Those with more money are more likely to be able to make more money. However, this is not the only kind of capital. There is another kind of capital that can be later on converted into material capital. This is cultural capital. Cultural capital that is valuable in the middle-class world would include speaking in standard English and knowing the politeness norms of the middle class. Those that only know how to speak in the black English vernacular or only know how to act “street” would have difficulty interacting with others in the middle-class world. They have the wrong kind of capital to succeed in the middle-class world. But unlike money, cultural capital cannot be transmitted instantaneously. It takes a great deal of time and energy to transmit. Thus middle-class parents will spend 8 Bourdieu, Pierre (1986). The Forms of Capital. 10/13/2017 1:25 AM 11 2017101223254316_f_poverty considerable time with their children in transmitting this valuable cultural capital. Children of the poor are left out since their poor parents do not themselves own the cultural capital of the middle class. The more time a middle-class parent spends with his or he ...
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Social Stratification
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In every society in the world, they must comprise of different classes. The social classes
are the rates that the society views as a way of appreciating people’s efforts in their contribution
to the society (Rose, 2014). The class ratings are based on the merits of work, and well being of
the citizens. In America these are the major divisions that identify the respective categories of
people with the lifestyle they have. The classes discussed are in four categories; lower, middle,
upper and working classes. Each is a different identical characteristic and distinct from the
others. Majorly t...

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