Social and Economic Inequality
Inequality refers to the presence of unequal rewards and opportunities for varying social statuses in a community. Inequality can also be defined as the relational procedures in a given society that results to harm to a community’s social circle, class, and status. Smeeding (2017) postulates that examples of inequality in a community include lack of housing, employment, healthcare, rights to own property, educational facilities as well as the right to vote. Poverty, on the other hand, refers to the social conditions that are characterized by inadequate resources needed to meet particular living standards or for survival. Poverty is best described using existing conditions for instance lack of shelters, food, and clothing. An individual suffering from poverty mainly experiences prolonged starvation, lack of quality education and health care services as well as alienation. Sociologists view poverty as a social status where communities experience inequitable wealth and income distribution.
Economic inequality refers to the variance that exists in different measures of a society or country’s economic general well-being. Some of the ways that economic inequality manifests itself both locally and globally is in the form of varying income levels, infrastructure, urbanization, technological advancement and general growth and development (Smeeding, 2017). Economic inequality and poverty trends are triggered by various factors for instance race, gender, and geographical positions. Racial disparities for instance in the United States means that the blacks receive little wages compare to the whites. Racial disparities result in discrimination in the labor markets resulting in low productivity among the blacks and this triggers poverty. The black Americans are also exposed to inadequate social amenities, resources and opportunities and this further triggers economic inequality in terms of growth and development, hence increased poverty patterns.
Gender differences mean that women receive lower wages than men and normally obtain occupations that have lower returns compared to men’s and this triggers economic inequality. Women are usually underrepresented in the influential positions in organizations and overrepresented in the low-income jobs which further result in economic inequality. According to Van Wormer and Besthorn (2017), women are also denied the chances to participate in making significant decisions at home or to manage their earned cash and such discrimination based on gender leads to increased poverty trends. Varying geographical positions also results in economic disparities. Individuals residing in the rural areas, for instance, have limited access to resources or employment opportunities and this means that they survive on low wages jobs that at times do not adequately feed their families. Geographical positions, therefore, create differences and inequalities in terms of economic growth and this further perpetuates poverty trends.
Functionalists claim that the concept of poverty results from a failed community, as a community is made up of systems that work together towards achieving a common goal. The lack of opportunities, employment, and income, for instance, is due to the broken economic system. Functionalism, therefore, holds that it is the malfunction of the societal systems that trigger poverty. The symbolic internationalist perspective, on the other hand, argue that a community’s realities are socially developed. The aspects of symbolic interactionism, therefore, mean that the poor lack access to the society symbols compared to the rich hence inequalities and poverty(Van Wormer & Besthorn, 2017). The conflict theory, on the other hand, asserts that conflict in the society exists as a result of the competition for scarce resources and power, where the rich suppress the poor to sustain their wealth and power. Despite the varying perspectives, the three theories attempt to explain why poverty arises and how to best understand it, to seek solutions.
In his attempt to assist human beings to understand the issue of economic inequality and poverty, Wright Mills explains the sociological perspective or imagination. Mills assert that there are personal issues such as poverty and unemployment and public issues which not only affect the individual but also the entire community. Based on his argument, Mills believes that most private problems can be best understood as community issues which he called the sociological view or imagination (Mills, 2018). To support his argument, Mills uses the example of unemployment where he claims that if only a few individuals in the society were unemployed, the society would perceive their lack of occupation as laziness, poor working ethics or lack of skills. Therefore their social problems such as unemployment and poverty would be regarded as their personal challenges. However, when the larger population is unemployed, the scenario is considered public trouble as the sociological view claims that community structures have been distorted. The solutions to poverty and economic inequalities, therefore, lies in the political and economic institutions and not the personal characters and situations. Mills believes that understanding sociological imagination means being able to understand the relationship between an individual the human being and society as well as the history and biography of the individual and the world.
In conclusion, economic inequality and poverty both entail lack of opportunities for self and community growth. Both poverty and economic inequality are triggered by various factors for instance race, gender, and an individual’s geographical position. Various sociological theories, for instance, the conflict theory, the symbol interactionist perspective and the functionalist view attempts to explain the concept of poverty and inequality. However for a society to function effectively, there is the need to integrate the concept of sociological imagination.
Mills, C. (2018). From ‘Invisible Problem’to global priority: the inclusion of mental health in the
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Smeeding, T. M. (2017). Cross-national comparisons of inequality and poverty position.
In Economic inequality and poverty: international perspectives (pp. 53-73). Routledge.
Van Wormer, K., & Besthorn, F. (2017). Human behavior and the social environment, macro
level: Groups, communities, and organizations. Oxford University Press.