The list of social problems confronting modern life is extensive, and it is a challenge for social scientists to understand the links between these issues, causality, and solutions. The quality of life for all citizens in the United States is impacted by the social issues that are specific to their lives, so that there is a tremendous incentive to examine the reasons for these challenges as well is to explore strategies to ameliorate or eliminate them. Unemployment, racism, and poverty are three of those problems that are significantly intertwined, and therefore worthy of serious scrutiny.
The impact of poverty involves factors that are interrelated so that one problem really occurs alone; for example, poor sanitation facilitates the spread of old and new diseases, and hunger and lack of water cause people to be more vulnerable to them (The Effects of Poverty on Society, Children, and Violence.) The causes of poverty are many: a capitalist society that concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a small elite group of citizens; in addition, capitalism reinforces poverty in many other ways, such as causing employers to pay low wages, replace people with machines, and move jobs overseas where labor is cheaper. Communities that experience poverty frequently experience discrimination, resulting in cycles of poverty that have detrimental and long-lasting effect on society and individuals. Poverty is linked to crime as well, and tends to be concentrated in areas where the number of uneducated adults is high, resulting in fewer or no jobs and resulting in chronic and long-term poverty.
Racism is caused by a belief that one’s race is superior to others, and is usually accompanied by hatred at the individual level, discriminatory policies at the social and political level, and violence at all levels (The Causes of Racism.) The desire to exploit others is one of the causes of racism, as well as low self-esteem, lack of empathy, and ignorance, fear, upbringing, and peer pressure. The impact of racism are far-reaching, and include discrimination in various institutions including housing and employment, and have an impact on individuals regarding their feelings of self-worth, an expectation of being devalued by society, and limited opportunities to improve one’s circumstances based on factors that date back to the legacy of slavery.
Unemployment is caused by many factors, including many people who have left their positions either in voluntarily or by choice, and are looking for new employment. Often, this is caused by companies reducing their workforces, laying off many people who have limited opportunities for new positions, especially given the difficult financial climate in the nation as a whole for the last several years. The job picture was so negative for so long that many people simply dropped out of the workforce, discontinuing any searches for work. Unemployment often occurs when the need for certain skill sets has declined, and the workforce is untrained for positions in the newer fields. The impact of unemployment affects individuals as well as families, because living without incomes has an extremely damaging effect on the ability to live. Financially, it is extremely difficult to manage if one is not employed, and in addition, the person who has become unemployed is likely to experience a wide range of emotions including anger, sadness, and confusion as well as stress, all of which make it even more difficult to find a new position (Woods.)
There are various ways to study social problems. Research can be conducted through surveys, interviews, experiments, observation, or by conducting reviews of existing data (Barcan.)
Culture plays a tremendous role in defining social problems within a society. There are five traditional institutions within each society: family, religion, politics, economics, and education, although some sociologists believe that there are other social institutions such as mass media and the military that also play significant roles in modern societies (Mooney.) Many social problems result from insufficient and effective institutions, such as when unemployment is impacted by an educational institution’s failure to adequately prepare people to enter the job market. Society identifies social problems because it contains the elements of beliefs, values, norms, sanctions, and symbols (Mooney.) A certain individual or group holds certain beliefs that influence whether they view a specific social issue as problematic. Values contribute to the identification of social problems because they are comprised of social agreements about what is considered good and bad, right and wrong, desirable and undesirable, all of which result in making judgments about what features of society are assets and which ones are problems. Norms contribute to the function as well, because they serve as parameters for people’s behavior as well as the expectations of individuals and groups about which behaviors of other people are acceptable and which are not.
There are various sociological theories to explain the causes of poverty, unemployment, and racism. For example, the debate about the causes of poverty is divided into people who believe that the causes are structural/economic versus those who believe that poverty is caused by cultural and behavioral factors. The latter group have long dominated American political thought because there is a strong belief that poor people have only themselves to blame because they are lazy and unmotivated. Classic economic theories deriving from Keynesian economics is the result of the difference between the amount of employment demanded and supplied at each real wage or as the difference between actual and equilibrium employment (Meltzer.) Finally, there are several different sociological theories about the existence of racism. Usually, the root of racism is understood from an institutional framework, but the three main sociological perspectives on the topic are functionalist theory, symbolic interaction theory, and conflict theory (Crossman.)
- Barcan, Stephen. “Social Problems: Continuity and Change.” August 2012. Flat World Knowledge.com. Web. 18 February 2015.
- Crossman, Ashley. “Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.” 2015. Sociology.about.com. Web. 18 February 2015.
- Jordan, Gregory. “The Causes of Poverty–Cultural Versus Structural.” 2004. Arizona State University.edu. Web. 18 February 2015.