American History the Underside of Affluence the Term Paper

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American History

The underside of affluence

The period is in the early years of the twentieth century. America is now experiencing economic and political expansion as it became the model of an imperial superpower for all nations, both in the Western and Eastern regions. Economic growth spurred as a result of the industrial revolution, while political structures strengthened due to the numerous successful conquests of the Americans to colonize nations in the Asian and southern American regions.

However, despite the affluence that American society had experienced during this period, a considerable half of the American population is suffering from poverty. With the rise of urbanization, many people flocked to the cities in search of a high-paying job and steady source of income as factory workers. However, the rapid incidence of migration to the cities made them crowded with people, hence, living conditions began to deteriorate, which includes the lack of sufficient space to live in, lack of food to eat, and high incidence of deaths and illnesses due to poor sanitation in the cities. Apart from these poor living conditions, poor people suffered from long hours of work in factories, yet received low pay, worked in a dangerous working environment, and faced the uncertainty of losing a job due to the availability of workers who are willing to work under these (enumerated) conditions. All of these realities happened when America was experiencing material progress as a result of its colonial exploits and pursuit of the industrial and capitalist economic system. This is the underside of affluence, the other half of American society who did not share the wealth of the owners of manufacturing businesses that thrived during the period.

The Kennedy Mystique

In the 1960s, American society is characterized by the expansion and mobility of the middle class and the prevalence of consumerism. Both phenomena were the results of the economic growth that had increased after the Cold War. There had been numerous incidences wherein America had full employment, experienced greater socio-economic opportunities, and government had increased spending, which all became catalysts for the development of new technologies movements that helped bring forth modernization in American society for the 20th century.

It is in this social context that American society witnessed the invention and popularity of the television and the rise of John F. Kennedy as the 35th president of the United States. Kennedy's success in winning the presidential elections is mainly credited for the invention of the television, which broadcasted the presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon. It is evident that the "Kennedy mystique" -- the popularity and well-known charisma of Kennedy to the public -- was developed from his close relationship with and constant exposure in the television (and media, in general), giving him access to the American public and becoming more visible to his constituents. His "mystique" further increased when America became witnessed to the somewhat 'dramatic' and interesting life of Kennedy, from his rumored affair with the popular starlet Marilyn Monroe to the Cuban Missile Crisis, until his documented assassination at Dallas, Texas in November 1963. Evidently, the "Kennedy mystique" was brought about by the development and introduction of the mass media, particularly the television, as he became the president of the country.

Civil Rights, 1964-1965

America after the Second World War was characterized, as earlier discussed, by economic prosperity and social mobility as a result of the expansion of the middle class and satisfactory economic conditions. However, these privileges experienced by the American society were not shared by the black Americans, the marginalized sector in society that continues to experience prejudice and discrimination by the dominantly white American society. Thus, because of this apparent display of inequality in the society that the black Americans formed the civil rights movement, which gained popularity and strength during the 1960s. Primarily, the movement advocates for equality and abolishment of discrimination in the American society and the continued practice of segregation in the South.

The civil rights movement gave rise to the popularity and influence of black American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael, among others. Apart from the protest against racial discrimination, the civil rights movement in the 1960s also served as the catalyst for new movements to emerge among other marginalized sectors in American society. This includes the rise of the women's rights movement, the environmental movement, and even the youth movement, all of which advocate for equality in a society that is dominated by the patriarchal, white American society. The emergence of these movements in the twentieth century gave birth to new ideologies and socio-political thoughts, such as feminism and environmentalism. These fights also led to the formulation of the Equal Rights Amendment and the right of black Americans to participate and vote in the elections.

Suburban Independence: the Outer City

The relative independence that middle-class Americans who have settled in the suburban areas of the country created stratification among Americans based on geographical differences. Post-war America is known for its economic prosperity and social mobility, allowing middle-class Americans to settle down in the suburbs and create the "geographical" image of affluence. This image of affluence was manifested by the socio-demographic characteristics of the population in the suburbs, which are mainly composed of fully-employed individuals where both male and female parents were working and have steady sources of income, have cars as their primary mode of transportation, and were offered greater educational opportunities.

The geographical image of affluence projected by suburban inhabitants led to the development of economic polarization or socio-economic inequality between the residents of the metropolitan cities and suburban regions. While the suburbs experience relative comfort and wealth due to the increased opportunities offered by the middle-class Americans, citizens who lived and migrated to the cities have experienced the detrimental effects of modernization and urbanization in the country. City residents experienced poor working and living conditions and were devoid of the privileges given to the middle class. The wealth and comfortable lives of the suburban American families and the contradicting nature of the poor in the cities led to the creation and persistence of the economic polarization, which is still reflected at present, as some states in the country are regarded as more affluent than the other states. This polarization also led to the prevalence of the culture of poverty and segregation in the cities as opposed to the egalitarian state of suburban neighborhoods, which are mostly composed of white American families.

Closed and failing farms

The development of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1920s was determined by the overproduction of agricultural products despite the low demand for these goods in both the foreign and domestic markets. The failure of agriculture to spur growth in the American economy served as the catalyst that eventually led to the crash of the stock market, high rates of both unemployment and inflation.

However, it is important to look at the precursors that led to the overproduction and decline of growth in the agricultural sector. As the country entered the twentieth century, the agricultural sector was encouraged to expand its productivity due to the increased economic prosperity that the country had experienced. After the war, American farmers began cultivating once again farm lands, and the increasing value of these farm lands had encouraged farmers to further invest in agriculture, buying tools and machineries that were needed to increase production of agricultural goods. However, with the end of the war and the gradual decline in demand for agricultural crops and goods, prices increased at the same time overproduction had also increased. What resulted, then, is the crash of the agricultural sector. The occurrence of the Great Depression, however, further worsened the condition of the agricultural sector in the country. The economic downfall also resulted to the occurrence of draught in…[continue]

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