Questions: 1. Select one of the five trending facts about the economy, above, and apply it to the United States using the Conflict Perspective. Define Conflict Theory and provide at least one...

Questions:

1. Select one of the five trending facts about the economy, above, and apply it to the United States using the Conflict Perspective. Define Conflict Theory and provide at least one specific real-world example.

2. Select one of the five trending facts about the economy, above, and apply it to the United States using the Interactionist Perspective. Define the Interactionist Perspective and provide at least one specific real-world example.

According to the Pew Research Center (2014), there are five trending facts about the economy:

1. By one measure, U.S. income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928.

2. The U.S. is more unequal than most of its developed-world peers.

3. The black-white income gap in the U.S. has persisted.

4. Americans are relatively unconcerned about the wide income gap between rich and poor.

5. Wealth inequality is even greater than income inequality.

Reference:

DeSilver, D. (2014, January 7). 5 facts about economic inequality. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/07/5-facts-about-economic-inequality/

 

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Question 1:

Of these facts, the one that can be most easily explained using the conflict perspective is Fact #3, the fact that the income gap between black and white Americans has persisted.  The conflict perspective holds that society is made up of groups that compete with one another for wealth, power, and other resources.  The society that we have is created through these conflicts.  In each conflict, one group wins and it creates institutions or rules that help it and which hurt the group that it defeated.

We can easily apply this to the inequality between black and white Americans.  These two groups have, arguably, been in conflict since before the US even became a country.  Throughout our history, whites have typically defeated African Americans in this conflict.  They have enslaved African Americans and enacted Jim Crow laws to segregate them.  They have discriminated against African Americans and prevented them from voting.  In all of these ways, and more, whites have created a society that helps them and hurts African Americans.

Conflict between blacks and whites can (arguably) explain persistent income inequality between the races.  Whites made blacks poor in various ways.  They created a segregated school system.  They set up a school system in which poorer people attend lower quality schools, thus helping wealthier whites and harming poorer blacks.  Whites have set up systems that are ostensibly based on merit but which allow whites to favor one another in hiring and other important decisions.  Whites have created a system of taxes and government programs that do not help African Americans rise from poverty.  Because whites won the conflict between themselves and African Americans, they have been able to “rig” the system to create income inequality between the two races that has persisted even after overt legal discrimination has ended.

Question 2:

While the conflict perspective explains Fact #3 very well, symbolic interactionism does a very good job of explaining Fact #4, the fact that Americans generally do not seem to care much about income inequality.  Symbolic interactionism says that people attach meanings to various things.  These “things” can be people, institutions, or other aspects of society.  People then interact with these things based on the meaning they attach to them.  From this perspective, aspects of our society are created by masses of individuals interacting with their surroundings and giving them similar meanings. 

In order to apply symbolic interactionism to Fact #4, we can say that Americans do not care about income inequality because they have not labelled it as a problem in their minds.  Instead, they have labelled it as a neutral or even a good thing.  For example, we can say that Americans have defined poor people as people who are unworthy.  When Americans see a poor person, they do not see someone who is a victim of fate or of an unkind system.  Instead, they see someone who has not done enough to make him or herself wealthy.  We can say that Americans have labelled government assistance as a bad thing.  In some countries, there is no stigma attached to getting economic help from the government.  In our society, there is such a stigma because we Americans have collectively decided that we should be individualistic and self-sufficient. 

In this way, symbolic interactionism explains Fact #4.  Americans have defined things in such a way that they do not think that income inequality is a problem.  Instead, they think that it is a natural byproduct of a society that is set up correctly.