For example, in discussing his childhood in "Southie" a poor neighborhood in Boston, Patrick MacDonald talks about the willful ignorance of the people in the neighborhood when he was a child. "They were all here now, all of my neighbors and friends who had died young from violence, drugs, and from the other deadly things we'd been taught didn't happen in Southie" (MacDonald, 1999, p.2). In other words, the reality of the poverty that defined the lives of the people in his neighborhood was less important than their concept of what it meant to live there.
However, while MacDonald makes it clear that the people in Southie considered themselves blessed to live there, he also makes it clear that they dealt with some very real struggles and that these struggles impacted how they viewed the world. They understood that they were disadvantaged compared to other whites. Therefore, like many groups of disadvantaged people, they looked for another group, one with even lower status, to call lesser than them. "We didn't want to own the problems that took the lives of my brothers and of so many others like them: poverty, crime, drugs -- those were black things that happened in the ghettos of Roxbury. Southie was Boston's proud Irish neighborhood" (MacDonald, 1999, p.2). In other words, the economic disadvantage experienced by MacDonald and his peers in Southie helped shape and inform racist thoughts and beliefs. What this suggests is that there are not three, or even four, social classes. Instead, there are six (or eight social classes) white and non-white versions of each group, because, the reality is that even upper class minorities are subject to a level of discrimination that makes their experience different than that of whites in the same economic position.
Race is not the only attribute that can change the impact of socioeconomic class on a person; women experience financial inequality differently than men. It is commonly accepted that women are more likely to be poor than men are, and this is true. Women are more likely to be single parents than men and to suffer negative financial consequences as the result of divorces. However, it is also interesting to note that women in the lower social classes are more likely to be never married, when marriage is actually on of the traditional ways that women have used to help change or insure their social status (McCall, 2008, p.297). In fact, the myth that women who are high-earners or who come from successful financial backgrounds have more difficulty finding mates is a myth; not only are they able to find mates among wealthier men, but also among men who earn less. This suggests that the idea of using marriage as a means of changing social status is not limited to women, but something that members of either gender will do.
What is interesting is that, as social class can be difficult to define, it can also be subject to change. If one considers an area undergoing gentrification, one can see the ways that changes in socioeconomic status may result in different changes depending upon the individual experiencing those changes. Newman and Chen examined Clinton Hill, a poor neighborhood that was undergoing gentrification, in order to see how gentrification would impact the traditional residents of that neighborhood. What they found was that the results of gentrification were not consistent across their subjects. "Indeed, the changing conditions of Clinton Hill are written upon the neighborhood's children, stamped upon their psyches like a genetic code waiting to express itself…the influences at work here are not nature, of course, but nurture: the effect of the urban environment upon the children who grow up there, the behavioral patterns imprinted upon their pliable minds at an early age" (Newman & Chen, 2007, p.42).
Finally, people who straddle the line between the lower class and the middle class may experience social inequality more strongly than members of other groups. Not only do they understand the ability to increase income, which leads to some type of wealth accumulation, but they also understand the risks of falling back into the lower class. Perhaps the largest personal impact that these economic differences have on people is the lack of a safety net. "These wealth differences are crucial: savings are the safety net that that catches you when you falter, but Missing Class families have no such bulwark. As a result, they experience an odd fusion of optimism and insecurity: the former from their upward mobility, the latter from the nagging concern that it could all disappear if just one thing goes wrong" (Newman & Chen, 2007, p.6). This social class seems to experience the most desperation because they are constantly aware of the dangers that they face if they slide back into the lower class.
Consequences of Social Inequality on Individuals and Societies
The mythology of America focuses on the idea of the basic equality of all human beings. Therefore, at its most basic level, the impact of social inequality on individuals is to send the message that members of the lower class are lesser than members in higher socioeconomic classes. There is a belief that members of the lower class are lazy, stupid, and deserve to be poor. All one needs to do in order to understand societal attitudes towards the poor is to turn on a local news report and see how the reporters treat the poor. For example, when poor people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are victimized by criminals, they are often portrayed as being somewhat responsible for their victimization (Suarez, 2008, p.364).
The distaste for, and condescension toward, the poor in a lot of conventional news reporting can sometimes be jaw droopingly obvious (pg 364). An example of this given in the reading was when a reporter describes a person who is killed
This seems to justify the mistreatment of them as a group. In fact, "one of the darkest sides to the market economy that came to light was the large and growing inequality that has left the American social fabric, and the country's economic sustainability, fraying at the edges; the rich were getting richer, while the rest were facing hardships that seemed inconsistent with the American dream" (Stiglitz, 2012, p.2).
This impact is not limited to the financial conditions surrounding the member of the lower classes. Instead, they can impact them on all different levels. This means that it is qualitatively and quantitatively different to be a poor American than to be a rich American. "At our best, we are a country where the rule of law prevails, where an individual is innocent until proven guilty, and where all people stand equal before the law. These values also are central to our understanding of America's place in the world. We have championed them to other countries. Yet what the pledge really means is seldom taken up" (Stiglitz, 2012, p.187). This can become very relevant when one considers access to justice. For civil legal matters, the reality is that American law is sufficiently complex that a lay person may not be able to comprehend it, and failure to comply with overly-technical legal requirements that do not impact outcome can result not only in a ruling against a party, but also in sanctions and penalties. Those who cannot afford legal representation are at a disadvantage in those scenarios. Even more importantly, the poor face tremendous disadvantages in the criminal justice system. Because of the relationship between social class and race, what this means is that a black person caught committing an offense is more likely to be charged with the crime, convicted of the crime, and to receive a higher sentence than a white person.
One of the other ways that social class impacts the individual is that social class helps determine one's access to health care. Under many circumstances, the poor simply lack access to basic health care because it is prohibitively expensive. On a practical level, this may ensure that the poor avoid having a regular family doctor, but instead use the Emergency Room as a primary care physician. This leads to gaps in the medical record. These gaps are significant because a lack of history can lead doctors to make less-than-optimal charging decisions.
Economic and Public Policies that Effectively Deal with Social Inequality
Even after all of the research about this issue, the writer cannot pinpoint an economic or public policy that seems as if it would deal with social inequity. There are a number of policies that seem as if they would help mitigate the impact of social inequality, but they may be run in such a manner that confusion is simply inevitable or that does not encourage innovation. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that there are any policies that will be the cure for poverty.