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Chapter 2

Chapter 2 notes of Social Problems book.

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Chapter 2 Class, Poverty, and Economic Inequality
Economic inequality: large differences in income and wealth across individuals and groups within a society;
differences in the economic power of nations
Sociological take: poverty and inequality are important public issues
oBecome named problems, with supposed causes and effects, through the efforts of claims-makers
It takes a sociological imagination to see how poverty and inequality connects to issues of ideology,
governance and power
Marx introduced the notion of social class
oStressed that people always organize oppositionally around their relation to the means of production
oThose who own it will enjoy the greatest power: the control over available jobs
oThe rest proletarians will have to sell their time and labour power to capitalists to earn wages
that allow them to survive
oCapitalists will pay the workers as little as possible and sell the product for as high a price as
possible maximum profit
Classes are groups of people who share a common economic condition, interest or relationship to the means
of production (technology and capital)
Two main classes binary: fundamental to all social relations since these two classes are forever locked in
High prices, low wages and poor working conditions are not good for workers
oSo they struggle through unions, co-operatives, legislation, and other means to improve their
wages, working conditions, job security and the prices they have to pay for food, shelter, and health
People in the same relation should band together
oWorkers to protect their wages and working conditions
oEmployers to protect their profit and control
oFor this to happen, the people must:
develop an awareness of their common interest,
commit themselves to working together for common goals and
come to see their individual well-being as connected to the collective well-being of their class
capitalist class system will produce monopolies of wealth and ever-increasing inequality, globalization and
imperialism, overproduction and recurrent financial crisis
those at the bottom will be impoverished, desperate and willing to do almost anything to survive
employers may prevent formation of unions or discussions of worker concerns
legislators may make laws that give the employers more power in the event of a conflict
police/military may be used to break strikes
unions and representatives may not agree on how best to promote workers’ interests
workers may suffer from false consciousness: an acceptance of the discourse and value of the dominant class
and thus a willingness to believe arguments that promote individualistic solutions to problems or that blame
the poor and unemployed for their problems
workers may also be alienated from politics cannot trust unions
oppressed classes can bring about change only after they become aware of their position in relation to the
ruling class and their historic role
however, it is no longer necessary to own a business to control the means of production and the working
class, today, is international, a result of global ownership and economic competition

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functional theory of stratification (Davis + Moore) maintains that most people in most industrial societies
agree about the relative social value of particular roles (eg. A doctor is worth more in society than a store
ohowever, this theory fails to consider:
why the different between top-paid and bottom-paid workers is wide
why the range of salaries is much wider in one capitalist society than it is in others
why some people get high salaries regardless of whether they confer a social benefit (movie
not all inequality is due to exploitation in the form that Marx imagined; some are the:
oresult of unregulated market forces (inadequate laws governing the finance industry)
oresult of the tax structure which enables more or less wealth to be redistributed from poor to rich
redistribution: a result of the connection between state and ruling class
Marx recognized that, in general, all classes rest on inequality and that all inequality rests on social
differentiation; however, not all differentiation leads to inequality which doesnt result in classes
Class formation required the growth of class consciousness:
1.Identifying themselves as members of an exploited class
2.Seeing that owners of the means of production are their enemy
3.Realizing that everything is at stake in the battle for equality
4.Recognizing that societal change is possible through conflict
John Porters The Vertical Mosaic there is some opportunity for people cross class lines at the highest
occupational levels
Social mobility: the movement of individuals from one social class to another during the course of ones
oHas its limits; little chance of entering the upper class (top 1%) from below and vice versa
oThere is more opportunity to enter the top income decile (top 10%) and more opportunity to escape
the bottom income decile -> rare
oIn the middle (80% of all income earners) plenty of intergenerational mobility
oEducational credentials are the key to social mobility
oMore socially mobile likely to interact with higher social classes
oEducated people are also more likely to interact with lower classes
oPeople with more education have larger, more diverse social networks (partly because of exposure in
Measuring Poverty
Can view poverty in two ways:
oAbsolute poverty: lack of the basic necessities (food, shelter, medicine) for basic survival (eg.
oRelative poverty: survival, but far below the general living standards of the society or social group in
which the poor live; affects peoples live in dramatic ways
Poverty line: represents a usual standard of living and differs across countries; definition of poverty varies by
society, within societies and also over time -> elastic
Statistics Canada measurement strategies:
1.Low-income cut offs (LICOs): measures relative poverty based on the percentage of income devoted to
daily necessities (food, shelter, clothing) and determined both regionally and by population
2.Low-income measures (LIMs): a set of figures representing 50% of the median adjusted family income;
actual incomes are compared with LIMs to determine whether or not a family can be considered low-
income; these measure are categorize according to the number of adults and children present in families
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