Poverty in America the Causes Term Paper

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The literature search and selection was essentially based on the central questions noted above. The selection of causality was a central theme in this search; and this term was also related to concomitant aspects of the subject; such as the perception of poverty, methodological consideration in the measurement of poverty rates, important social and cultural factors etc. An effort way also made to include theoretical as well as more practical studies, reports and assessments of the problem. However, the literature search also attempted to provide for alternative views and theories that might shed light on the central thesis of the study; so that the literature reviews and citations in this study would be as discursive and extensive as possible.

4.1. General views and overviews general study that provides some useful background to the issue of poverty in an historical context is a History of Sociology in Britain: Science, Literature, and Society Book by a.H. Halsey (2004). In this comprehensive overview the author provides useful insights into the sociological understanding of the development of poverty with regard to its origins in the industrial revolution in Britain. This study therefore stresses the fact that the roots of contemporary poverty lie in the eventful changes in society and in social structures that emerged as a result of the industrial revolution.

Another general overview of the issue surrounding poverty seen in its sociological context is the comprehensive, Poverty in America: A Handbook by John Iceland (2003). This comprehensive and very useful source book provides a cogent overview of the changes in theoretical stances and perceptions of poverty in the American context. The study notes, for example, the naivety of the original American "dream" of eradicating poverty. The study also provides an in-depth and extensive exploration of the trends and patterns of poverty in the United States; as well as an examination of the impact and effect of poverty over time.

Importantly, the study is of the view that the persistence of poverty in the United States is a reflection of much more than just accumulation of the fallings of individuals. The study stresses that various structural issues including the way that poverty is interpreted and understood, determine responses and policy in relation to poverty. (Iceland, 2003, p. 2) This also includes an exposition of the part that the economic system plays and factors such as other social inequality. (Iceland, 2003, p. 2) This important point will be expanded on in this thesis.

This work also refers to various other aspects that are influential in understanding patterns and causation on poverty in America. For instance, Iceland notes that shifts in family structure have not been considered an important causative factor for poverty and in poverty rates in recent research; however, they were considered to be important in demeaning poverty trends in the 1970s and 1980s" (Iceland, 2003, p. 2).

These aspects and theoretical shifts are also contrasted with older and more established views about the causes of poverty in the country and the author brings to bear more contemporary views and issues that relate to this topic. Importantly, Iceland also discuses the myths that abound about poverty and how this term is often subject to forms of stereotyping and is erroneously associated with ethic groups and various cultural areas. The author states, for example, the common misperception is most of the poor in the country are African-American residents of inner cities. (Iceland, 2003, p. 3) Another stereotypical misconception that is noted is the view that the poor do not work. These issues are important in a consideration of the real causes of poverty, which need to be distinguished for the mythical, stereotypical and biased views of this phenomenon.

One of the central questions that underlie the issue of the cause of poverty in America is the actual extent of this phenomenon in a wealthy and developed country. Garth L. Mangum, Stephen L. Mangum and Andrew M. Sum address this issue in the Persistence of Poverty in the United States (2003). The study provides some useful insights into the actual situation relating to poverty in America - in contradistinction to the media image and the stereotypical resonation of poverty. As a review of the book by Midgley, (2004), states, while there is seemingly a plethora of statistical data that supports the view that Americans enjoy a very high standard of living, research also reveals that there are intense and marked inequalities and disparities in income and wealth. This is coupled with the fact of the persistence of poverty in the population as well as marked signs of the growth of this problem in the middle class of the country. (Midgley, 2004. p. 215).

A very useful introduction to the problem of poverty in the country is the extensive data contained in the Catholic Charities 2006 Policy Paper, Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good. This paper provides some extremely useful data and statistics. For example, it states that 37 million people - about 12.6% of the population - live below the official federal poverty level; and between 2000 and 2004, the number of people living in poverty increased by 5.3 million. (Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good) Even more telling is the fact that poverty rates did not decline, even though the economy as a whole was in the process of recovery. (Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good) These important statistics underlines the importance of a study of this nature.

4.2. Alternative views and theories work that explores the concept of poverty from another angle and is also very useful in terms of the central thesis of this study is, Poverty and the Third Way, by Colin C. Williams (2003). This study refers to the view of the "old left' which sees the poor as a construct of society and is in favor of the redistribution of wealth as an answer to the problem. The views of the New Right are also expanded on in this study. This relates to the stance which sees the poor as an underclass with low morals, work ethic etc. These two views roughly correspond to the two different ideological trajectories in theory that have been referred to above.

The third perspective is the view of "new labor' which refers to the identification and understanding of the poor as simply the 'unemployed" and to employment of the poor as the way out of poverty. Williams suggest another alternative view of poverty that focuses on "capabilities theory." (Williams & Windebank, 2003, p. 1) study which is central to the main thesis under discussion, especially in terms of the sociological context of poverty is American Poverty as a Structural Failing: Evidence and Arguments, by Mark R. Rank, Hong-Sik Yoon and Thomas a. Hirschl (2003). This study notes that in the main, most of the empirical research on poverty in America has been focused on individual characteristics to explain the prevalent patterns of poverty. The authors of this study state that this emphasis is "misplaced" and that as a result of concentrating on individual attributes and failings as the cause of poverty, sociologists and other experts have been blind to the real causes and the "underlying dynamic" of American impoverishment." (Rank, Yoon & Hirschl, 2003) This "underlying dynamic: in their view refers to the fact that the economic systems and constraints in fact create poverty. This view would therefore be in concert with theories that see the system itself as a cause of poverty. (Rank, Yoon & Hirschl, 2003).

The above study goes on to show that the causes of poverty are the result of structural failings in the system itself at many levels, including the economic, political, and social levels. This perspective also takes note of the older research findings that have tended to focus on individual characteristics as important factors in the reality of poverty; while at the same time addressing the structural nature of American poverty (Rank, Yoon & Hirschl, 2003). Importantly the study by Rank, Yoon and Hirschl raises an issue that is central to the main thesis of this study. This refers to the fact, or rather the question of why the United States has such high levels of poverty in comparison to other Western Countries. (Rank, Yoon & Hirschl, 2003. p. 3) This refers to the fact, according to the authors, that America has too many low-wage jobs and that the governmental polices in terms of social poverty have been too restrictive and have not done enough in terms of supporting families. The authors also refer to the importance of increasing labor market opportunities and social support to ordinary Americans. (Rank, Yoon & Hirschl, 2003. p. 3)

An intriguing and enlightening study of the actual measurement poverty in the United States is the Sequential Costs of Poverty: What Traditional Measures Overlook (2006) by Elizabeth a. Segal, Laura R. Peck. The research in this study suggests an addition to the poverty measurement debate. In essence, the…[continue]

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