The division into social classes is a conditional phenomenon, but it is obvious that this phenomenon is present formally and can negatively influence people’s lives. Social differences are the differences in society that are dictated by social factors: lifestyle – urban and rural population, division of labor – mental and manual workers, social roles, which leads to differences in the degree of possession of property, income, power, achievement of social status, prestige, education (Healey et al., 2018). The problem of social inequality is one of the most acute and topical. A feature of the social structure of society is a strong social polarization – the division of the population into poor and rich in the absence of a significant middle stratum, which forms the basis of an economically stable and developed state. Strong social stratification, characteristic of modern society, reproduces a system of inequality and injustice, in which the possibilities of independent self-realization in life and raising social status are limited for a fairly large part of the population.
Historical Factors of Social Inequality
Social inequality in the United States has changed over the past 100 years, from when racism was commonplace and racial discrimination was legal to the dual election of a black president. However, despite this, the real state of affairs with inequality and discrimination in society has not improved much. The reasons for persistent inequalities lie in a number of historical events. The existing level of social inequality in the long term was influenced by slavery, which has persisted in the United States for a long time. More recent causes that have exacerbated social inequality include the 2008 crisis that widened the gap between the rich and the poor, the pace of globalization over the past 30 years, and US government policies since the 1970s.
Although slavery was completely abolished a century and a half ago, today, it is a direct cause of social inequality. The low level of education has led to the persistence of large wage and income disparities. Subsequently, as successive generations of black children received wider and better education, the racial gap in schooling narrowed, which eventually affected incomes. Overall, the data presented on the evolution of educational inequality across a wide range of parameters—literacy rates, years of schooling, per-student spending, and returns to literacy—overwhelmingly point to long-term convergence. The financial crisis of 2008 widened the inequality between the rich and the poor. Rising prices made the poor even poorer, while the rich could maintain and sometimes even increase their wealth. The drastic changes in the market affected the poor and the middle class, allowing the small top of society to concentrate even more money.
Income inequality has increased, especially over the past 30 years, as incomes have been distributed unevenly among those with the highest incomes. One explanation for social inequality is the growing role of trade and the process of globalization (Sernau, 2019). The increase in trade between the US and the rest of the world has led to more imports into the US economy, resulting in job losses in industries that originally produced these goods in the US.
Another explanation suggests that US government policies created an institutional framework that increased inequality. Since the late 1970s, deregulation, unionization, tax changes, federal monetary policy, and other measures have reduced wages and employment. These basic explanations for income inequality show how difficult it is to distinguish one cause of inequality from others. Income inequality does not have a single cause. Thus, any policy decisions aimed at addressing inequality must take into account this nuance and take into account the various factors that contribute to inequality.
Current Issues of Social Inequality
Over the past thirty years, the inequality level has increased significantly, and the overall level of inequality is at the moment approaching the extreme levels that existed before the Great Depression. At the moment, the origins of inequality lie in the dominance of male wages over women, racial discrimination, and the level of wages of people with and without higher education. Since 1979, average weekly earnings have increased only among college graduates. In contrast, real average weekly earnings fell by about 22 percent for those who dropped out of school (Hurst et al., 2019). For most of the 20th century, the average woman earned about 60% of the average man’s earnings. Women and men tend to choose completely different professions: ‘male labor’ is paid better than ‘female.’ High school dropout rates are lowest among whites and highest among Hispanics, while college acceptance rates are lowest among blacks and highest among whites. Racial discrimination is still present in the labor market and directly affects social inequality.
People Affected by Social Inequality
The main groups affected by social inequality remain women, blacks, representatives of national minorities, and immigrants. Society builds barriers that are difficult for these people to overcome. It is more challenging for them to get an education and achieve equal career opportunities, for example, with white men, who are less subject to social discrimination. On Equal Pay Day 2019, actress Michelle Williams took to Capitol Hill to discuss the gender pay gap, an issue she is all too familiar with after realizing she was paid $1,000 and Mark Wahlberg $1,500 000 for reshoots of their film All the Money in the World (Fernandez, 2017). In 2017, everyone knew about this social injustice; however, no measures were taken.
After discovering that Jennifer Lawrence was making 2% less money than her male colleagues started in American Hustle, the actress wrote a powerful essay titled “Why do I make less than my male counterparts?” Later, she explained this act: women almost impose this gender bias on themselves and consider things like different pay for the same thing normal; people need to get rid of this unfair mentality (Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑stars? 2017). In 2020, Lucy Liu opened up about how she feels like an outcast in Hollywood in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald. Discussing the hurdles she had to overcome as an Asian actress in Hollywood; the Charlie’s Angels star looked back at the auditions she had at the start of her career and how, looking back, she sees herself as naive (Cooney, 2020). Liu spoke about the challenges she had in finding an agent, saying that her race was the main problem in finding a job.
Possible Measures to Change the Situation
Possible measures to combat social inequality could be strengthening human capital, raising the minimum wage, altering corporate governance, and expanding infrastructure. Strengthening the underlying capital involves increasing taxes on richer people to direct the amounts to the benefit of the poorer. The most important investment needed is to improve basic education, starting with preschool education programs. Education is a solution to income inequality, but it is the best and most accessible tool.
The government can create a system that makes employment profitable, even for low-income workers. Alternative variants include increasing the earned income tax credit and subsidizing childcare services to work for more low-income parents. Simplifying occupational licensing requirements would make it easier for more people to enter higher-paying jobs, and easing work restrictions would increase the incomes of millions of Americans. In recent decades, the rise of shared capitalism in the American system has reduced workers’ influence in economic decision-making and strengthened the influence of business owners. Governments and corporations can change the social contract. One can imagine changes in the corporate governance structure that would be more attentive to additional stakeholders and potential beneficiaries beyond the owners. Better roads, bridges, and airports can increase the productivity and well-being of both business owners and workers. So are the digital connections to underpopulated communities that the 21st-century economy has left behind. It’s like electricity for the previous generation, so it’s an obvious investment in infrastructure that will make the place more conducive to job growth.
Social inequality continues to be a major problem for American society. Social inequality affects the oppressed segments of the population and negatively affects the entire economy as a whole. Over the past 100 years, the situation has changed for the better, but these changes are not enough to eliminate inequality. The best strategies to combat social inequality will be raising the minimum wage, investing in education accessible to all, improving infrastructure, and changing corporate policies.
Cooney, J. (2020, July 4). “I fly under the radar as much as possible”: the secret life of Lucy
Liu. The Sydney Morning Herald. Web.
Fernandez, A. (2019). Michelle Williams was ‘paralyzed’ after learning costar Mark Wahlberg was paid more than her. People. Web.
Healey, J. F., Stepnick, A., & O′Brien, E. (2018). Race, ethnicity, gender, and class (8th Edition). SAGE Publications.
Hurst, C. E., Nurse, A. M. & Fitz Gibbon, H. M. (2019). Social inequality: forms, causes, and consequences. Taylor & Francis.
Jennifer Lawrence: “Why do I make less than my male co‑stars?” (n.d.). Web.
Sernau, S. R. (2019). Social inequality in a global age. SAGE Publications.