Social Policy Demographics

The Elderly

There are several social policy challenges relating to the elderly, who are generally over the age of 65 and have retired from their jobs.

Learning Objectives

Discuss government policies that affect the elderly

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Within the United States, senior citizens are at the center of several social policy issues, most prominently Social Security and Medicare.
  • Social Security is a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits.
  • In 1965, Congress created Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history.

Key Terms

  • New Deal: The New Deal was a series of economic programs enacted in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They involved presidential executive orders or laws passed by Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.
  • social insurance: a program where risks are transferred to and pooled by an organization, often governmental, that is legally required to provide certain benefits

The elderly, often referred to as senior citizens, are people who are generally over the age of 65 and have retired from their jobs. Within the United States, senior citizens are at the center of several social policy issues, most prominently Social Security and Medicare.

Social security is a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits. To qualify for these benefits, most American workers pay Social Security taxes on their earnings, and future benefits are based on the employees’ contributions. The Social Security Administration was set up in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal. ” Social Security is currently the largest social welfare program in the United States, constituting 37% of government expenditure and 7% of GDP. In 2010, more than 54 million Americans received approximately $712 billion in Social Security benefits

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Social Security: Social Security card, which grants certain benefits to citizens.

In 1965, Congress created Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older, regardless of income or medical history. Medicare spreads the financial risk associated with illness across society in order to protect everyone. Thus, it has a somewhat different social role from for-profit private insurers, which manage their risk portfolio by adjusting their pricing according to perceived risk.

The Medicare population differs in significant ways from the general population. Compared to the rest of Americans, Medicare enrollees are disproportionately white and female (due to women’s greater longevity). They also have a comparatively precarious economic situation, which is usually exacerbated by the high cost of health care for the elderly.

The Middle Class

The middle class consists of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy, which varies between cultures.

Learning Objectives

Identify the central features of the middle-class in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The following factors are often ascribed to someone in the middle class: having a college education; holding professional qualifications, including academics, lawyers, engineers and doctors; a belief in bourgeois values; and identification culturally with mainstream popular culture.
  • Within the United States, the broader middle class is often described as divided into the upper-middle class (also called the “professional class”) and the lower-middle class.
  • Recently, the typical lifestyle of the American middle class has been criticized for its “conspicuous consumption” and materialism, as Americans have the largest homes and most appliances and automobiles in the world.

Key Terms

  • inflation: An increase in the general level of prices or in the cost of living.
  • materialism: Constant concern over material possessions and wealth and a great or excessive regard for worldly concerns.
  • bourgeois: Of or relating to the middle class, especially its attitudes and conventions.

The middle class is a category of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy, though common measures of what constitutes middle class vary significantly between cultures.

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Suburban Middle Class Home: An upscale home in suburban California, an example of the “conspicuous consumption” of the American middle class.

The size of the middle class depends on how it is defined, whether by education, wealth, environment of upbringing, social network, manners or values, etc. However, the following factors are often ascribed in modern usage to someone in the middle class: having a college education; holding professional qualifications, including academics, lawyers, engineers, and doctors; a belief in bourgeoisvalues, such as high rates of home ownership and secure jobs; a particular lifestyle; and the identification culturally with mainstream popular culture (particularly in the United States).

Within the United States, the broader middle class is often described as divided into the upper-middle class (also called the “professional class”) and the lower-middle class. The upper-middle class consists mostly of white-collar professionals, most of whom are highly educated, salaried professionals whose work is largely self-directed and typically involves conceptualizing, creating, consulting, and supervising. Many have graduate degrees, with educational attainment serving as the main distinguishing feature of this class. Household incomes commonly exceed $100,000. The lower-middle class consists mainly of people in technical and lower-level management positions who work for those in the upper middle class. Though they enjoy a reasonably comfortable standard of living, they are often threatened by taxes and inflation.

Recently, the typical lifestyle of the American middle class has been criticized for its “conspicuous consumption” and materialism, as Americans have the largest homes and most appliances and automobiles in the world. Another challenge to the stability of the middle class within the United States is increasing income inequality, as middle class Americans have seen their incomes increase at a much slower rate than the wealthiest 1% in the country.

The Working Poor

The working poor are working people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line.

Learning Objectives

Define the working poor in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Of the 8.8 million US families below the poverty line (11.1% of all families), 5.19 million, or 58.9%, had at least one person who was classified as working.
  • Within the United States, since the start of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, scholars and policymakers on both ends of the political spectrum have paid an increasing amount of attention to the working poor.
  • Some of the obstacles that working poor people may face include finding affordable housing, arranging transportation to and from work, buying basic necessities, arranging childcare, having unpredictable work schedules, juggling two or more jobs, and coping with low-status work.

Key Terms

  • Poverty line: The threshold of poverty below which one’s income does not cover necessities.

The working poor are working people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line. While poverty is often associated with joblessness, the wages of the working poor are usually insufficient to provide basic necessities, causing them to face numerous obstacles that make it difficult for many of them to find and keep a job, save up money, and maintain a sense of self-worth. In 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official definition of poverty, 8.8 million US families were below the poverty line (11.1% of all families). Of these families, 5.19 million, or 58.9%, had at least one person who was classified as working

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The Working Poor: Percentage of the working and nonworking poor in different countries

Within the United States, since the start of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, scholars and policymakers on both ends of the political spectrum have paid an increasing amount of attention to the working poor. One of the key ongoing debates concerns the distinction between the working and the nonworking (unemployed) poor. Conservative scholars and policymakers often attribute the prevalence of inequality and working poverty to overregulation and overtaxation, which they claim constricts job growth. In contrast, liberal scholars argue that the government should provide more housing assistance, childcare, and other kinds of aid to poor families, in order to help them overcome the obstacles they face.

Some of these obstacles may include finding affordable housing, arranging transportation to and from work, buying basic necessities, arranging childcare, having unpredictable work schedules, juggling two or more jobs, and coping with low-status work. Many scholars and policymakers suggest welfare state generosity, increased wages and benefits, more vocational education and training, increased child support, and increased rates of marriage as probable remedies to these obstacles.

The Nonworking Poor

The nonworking poor are unemployed people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the nonworking poor and the obstacles they face in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Many conservative scholars tend to see nonworking poverty as a more urgent problem than working poverty because they believe that non-work is a moral hazard that leads to welfare dependency and laziness, whereas work, even poorly paid work, is morally beneficial.
  • In order to help the nonworking poor gain entry into the labor market, liberal scholars advocate that the government should provide more housing assistance, childcare, and other kinds of aid to poor families.
  • Many policies that have been proposed to alleviate the obstacles that working poor people face may also be applied to the nonworking poor, including welfare state generosity, increased wages, increased vocational education and training, child support assurance, and increased rates of marriage.
  • Since the start of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, scholars and policymakers on both ends of the political spectrum have paid an increasing amount of attention to working poverty.

Key Terms

  • welfare state: a social system in which the state takes overall responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, providing health care, education, unemployment compensation and social security
  • Poverty line: The threshold of poverty below which one’s income does not cover necessities.

Introduction

The working poor are working people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line. Conversely, the nonworking poor are unemployed people whose incomes fall below a given poverty line. The main difference between the working and the nonworking poor, liberal policymakers argue, is that the nonworking poor have a more difficult time overcoming basic barriers to entry into the labor market, such as arranging for affordable childcare, finding housing near potential jobs, or arranging for transportation to and from work. In order to help the nonworking poor gain entry into the labor market, liberal scholars advocate that the government should provide more housing assistance, childcare, and other kinds of aid to poor families.

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The Working Poor: Percentage of the working and nonworking poor in different countries

Distinctions

Since the start of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, scholars and policymakers on both ends of the political spectrum have paid an increasing amount of attention to tackling poverty. One of the key ongoing debates concerns the distinction between the working and the nonworking poor. Many conservative scholars tend to see nonworking poverty as a more urgent problem than working poverty because they believe that non-work is a moral hazard that leads to welfare dependency and laziness, whereas work, even poorly paid work, is morally beneficial. On the other hand, liberal scholars and policymakers often argue that most working and nonworking poor people are quite similar.

Many of the policies that have been proposed to alleviate the obstacles that working poor people face may also be applied to the nonworking poor. These policies include: welfare state generosity, including unemployment and child benefits; increased wages and benefits, which may have a positive effect on unskilled workers who are likely to be among the nonworking poor; increased vocational education and training for the same demographic; child support assurance, especially for families headed by a single parent; and increased rates of marriage, although a lack of good employment opportunities may not lower the poverty rate among low-income people.

Obstacles to uplift

The working poor face many of the same everyday struggles as the nonworking poor, but they also face some unique obstacles. Some studies, many of them qualitative, provide detailed insights into the obstacles that hinder workers’ ability to find jobs, keep jobs, and make ends meet. Some of the most common struggles faced by the working poor are finding affordable housing, arranging transportation to and from work, buying basic necessities, arranging childcare, having unpredictable work schedules, juggling two or more jobs, and coping with low-status work.

Housing

Working poor people who do not have friends or relatives with whom they can live often find themselves unable to rent an apartment of their own. Although the working poor are employed at least some of the time, they often find it difficult to save enough money for a deposit on a rental property. As a result, many working poor people end up in living situations that are actually more costly than a month-to-month rental.

Transportation

Given the fact that many working poor people do not own a car or cannot afford to drive their car, where they live can significantly limit where they are able to work, and vice versa. Given the fact that public transportation in many US cities is sparse, expensive, or non-existent, this is a particularly salient obstacle.

Basic Necessities

Like the unemployed poor, the working poor struggle to pay for basic necessities like food, clothing, housing, and transportation. In some cases, however, the working poor’s basic expenses can be higher than the unemployed poor’s. For instance, the working poor’s clothing expenses may be higher than the unemployed poor’s because they must purchase specific clothes or uniforms for their jobs.

Childcare

Working poor parents with young children, especially single parents, face significantly more childcare-related obstacles than other people. Oftentimes, childcare costs can exceed a low-wage earners’ income, making work, especially in a job with no potential for advancement, an economically illogical activity. However, some single parents are able to rely on their social networks to provide free or below-market-cost childcare. There are also some free childcare options provided by the government, such as the Head Start Program. However, these free options are only available during certain hours, which may limit parents’ ability to take jobs that require late-night shifts.

Minorities, Women, and Children

Minorities, women, and children are often the target of specific social policies.

Learning Objectives

Discuss government social policy toward minorities, women and children in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A minority group is a sociological category within a demographic that is differentiated from those who hold the majority of positions of social power in a society.
  • While in most societies, numbers of men and women are roughly equal, the status of women as a subordinate group has led some (especially within feminist movements) to equate them with minorities.
  • One major, particularly controversial policy targeting minority groups is affirmative action.
  • People with disabilities continue to be an especially vulnerable minority group in modern society.

Key Terms

  • affirmative action: A policy or program providing advantages for people of a minority group with the aim of creating a more racially equal society through preferential access to education, employment, health care, social welfare, etc.

Minorities, Women, and Children

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Minorities: The Civil Rights Movement attempted to increase rights for minorities within the U.S.

Minorities, women, and children are often the target of specific social policies. A minority group is a sociological category within a demographic that is differentiated and defined by the social majority. That is, those who hold the majority of positions of social power in a society.

The differentiation can be based on one or more observable human characteristics that include ethnicity, race, gender, wealth, or sexual orientation. Usage of the term is applied to various situations and civilizations within history, despite its popular wrongful association with a numerical, statistical minority. In the social sciences, the term minority is used to refer to categories of persons who hold few positions of social power.

One major, particularly controversial policy targeting minority groups is affirmative action. This can be, for example, a government program to provide immigrant or minority groups who primarily speak a marginalized language with extra teaching in the majority language, so they are better able to compete for places at universities or for jobs. These may be considered necessary because the minority group in question is socially disadvantaged. Another form of affirmative action is quotas, where a percentage of places at university, or in employment in public services, are set aside for minority groups (including women) because a court has found that there has been a history of exclusion as it pertains to certain groups in certain sectors of society.While in most societies, numbers of men and women are roughly equal, the status of women as a subordinate group has led some (especially within feminist movements) to equate them with minorities. Children can also be understood as a minority group in these terms, as they are economically non-active and not necessarily given all the rights of adult citizens.