Generally, social problems are as diverse as the society they grow upon. However, some issues are of a fundamental nature. The very basic standards of life are distorted by poverty. Poverty is often brought about by unemployment,whereas the roots of unemployment go deep into the soil of poor public education. These disastrous phenomena are closely interlinked, though it is hard to tell which is the initial one. There may be other threats, but among all issues that dispirit the United States’ society, these three are of a particular importance.
It is impossible to define the exact period of time when the poverty became an issue. It was persistently present throughout the United States’ history, not quite unlike the majority of other countries. The very nature of poverty is relative; indeed, “people are poor when others think of them as poor” (Iceland, 2012, p. 23). On the other hand, people can define themselves as poor in comparison with the general standards of their relatively homogenous communities. Both cases can be matched against the officially developed poverty thresholds, intended to measure and classify the intensity of the problem. Despite the fact that such official data often lack the real-life accuracy, they bring the reflection of the disastrous trend:
… indeed, according to most measures, household income inequality continued to rise throughout the 2000th, with a striking gap between those at the very top of the income distribution and the rest of society (Iceland, 2012, p. xiii).
The problem of unemployment is a closely related issue to the poverty. Whenever the industry or any other economic sector is unable to absorb the qualified personnel, the unemployment ranks swell. Thorough researches aimed at the labor market estimation demonstrate that the unemployment level in the United States averaged 4 percent in 2000 – the lowest in three decades (Mooney, Knox & Schacht, 2012, p. 207). However, “during the economic recession that began in 2007, mass layoffs pushed the unemployment rate to 10 percent in the last quarter of 2009” (Mooney et al., 2012). Unfortunately, there are no indications suggesting that the situation has improved or even shown any reassuring tendency.
Naturally, the public education system is designed as yet another important lever to overcome the poverty and unemployment in a long run. Meanwhile, the accomplishments are far from perfect. The Program for International Student Assessment(PISA) is an appraisal that focuses on 15-year-olds abilities in reading and mathematics, evaluating the general scientific horizon as well. As cited by Thomas (2012),“Unfortunately, the 2009 PISA results show that American students are poorly prepared to compete in today’s knowledge economy” (p. 19). On top of this disturbing trend, the public education quality is also region-dependent. As in a vicious circle, the results are still poorer in the areas affected by other social issues as the “school quality is highly associated with student populations” (Thomas, 2012, p.15).
It is easy to attack poor and unemployed for their real or imaginable shortcomings. As put by Thomas (2012) with regard to the United States’ cultural specifics,
… we simply cannot bring ourselves to criticize the rich and privileged because we all want to be rich and privileged – and if that wealth and privilege were to come our way, we are convinced it would be deserved (p.15).
The overwhelming consumerism of the society tends to strengthen such an attitude. Indeed, without any considerations and beyond the reason “we demonize poverty and people living in poverty as a consequence of laziness – something people deserve – because it is the antithesis of the American Dream we cannot challenge” (Thomas, 2012, p.15). However, maybe it is time to challenge our prejudices, if we are to make some real changes to the suffering society.