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The Relativity of Social Understandings

April 10, 2009

Much of the public understands that most social problems in our society have a long history. They view their understandings of the character of most social problems as being just as concrete and well understood. But, some research has shown that many Americans living in poverty today have better housing, food, and personal property compared to most of the middle class in American history. Robert E. Rector wrote that in 1998, if you adjust for inflation, the lowest 20% of the poor had incomes equal to that of the average American household in the early 1970s! This brings up the point of how relative our social judgments can be.

Would you like to respond to this topic? If so, please address one of the talking points below:

1. Were you aware of how dependent our understandings of what constitutes poverty are upon social context? What insights does this afford you about assessing your understandings of other social problems?

2. Since what constitutes poverty has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, do you think the underlying causes of poverty have also changed? Why?

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3 comments

  1. The underlying causes of poverty has not changed in the last forty years. People who face poverty today are still facing the same problems from forty years ago; education, race, and the sex of the person who heads the household.


  2. I believe that the standard of living has changed dramatically over the years and has changed the way we classify poverty. A household in the 1970’s could survive on the same income as a family living in poverty today due to the changes in the standard of living. A family living in poverty today could try to match the quality of life that a typical middle class family has, however, they would not be able to surpass the typical family. This is if the household is frugal with money and understands what can be afforded and what can not. Many people do not understand that idea and would rather spend money they do not and will not have on items they do not need.


  3. The way we live has a lot to do with social understanding.If we are comfortable,do most of us care about the poor? I don’t think so. If we don’t have enough money to keep up with the Jones’s,then maybe most people will look around and then think. If an under-lying problem effects us then we do something or take into account the problem. A common statement today is “Well; It doesn’t effect me does it”.
    Our own government seems to be dis-jointed to todays problems.We know have a health program in our midst.Will we be able to use it? Canada has had socialized medicine for a long time. Do they like the plan they have. Most Canadians are not very happy with the plan. My bottom line thinking is,Does it effect me.



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