Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 735

Rising rates of illiteracy became a matter of public concern in America in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1989, it was estimated that 13 percent of seventeen-year-old Americans could not read or write and that twenty million Americans had problems with literacy. Some could not read or write at all, and this often resulted from poverty or being in culturally disadvantaged families. Others were partially literate and could read street signs and grocery lists but not much more. Often this was due to undiagnosed learning disorders such as dyslexia. According to a 1987 National Assessment of Educational Progress government survey, although 96 percent of those between twenty-one and twenty-five years old had basic reading skills, less than 48 percent were capable of reading a map well enough to use it properly. In the 1993 National Adult Literacy Survey by the Department of Education, over 40 percent of the adult population fell short of the literacy skills needed to succeed on a day-to-day basis.

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Gated Communities
In the late 1980s, fear of rising crime in urban areas led to a growth in the number of gated residential communities in the United States, particularly in California and other western and southern metropolitan areas. These were communities where access was controlled through gates and security guards. Sometimes fences topped with barbed wire surrounded the community. An example of a gated community is Canyon Lake, located seventy miles east of Los Angeles. Created in 1968, it incorporated as a city of its own in 1990. Gated communities proved an effective deterrent against crime, and their numbers increased throughout the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, there were about twenty thousand gated communities, which increased to around fifty thousand by 2000.

Fear of Crime
Fear of crime was a prominent feature of life in the United States at the time Parable of the Sower was written. According to a 1994 Gallup Poll, 52 percent of the people in the United States named crime as the most important social problem, up from only 9 percent in a similar poll conducted eighteen months earlier. A 1993 poll showed that 87 percent of U.S. residents thought that crime was higher than a year earlier. This was not in fact true, since the crime rate fell from 1991 to 1994, but people thought it was true. There was a particularly strong fear in urban areas of street crime and random, gangrelated violence. Fear of crime led legislators and the public at large to call for harsher punishments for criminals. In California, a “three strikes” law was passed in 1994. It mandated a sentence of twenty-five years to life for a third felony conviction if the previous felonies were serious or violent.

Homelessness in America increased drastically during the 1980s, to an estimated two million people in 1989. Some experts argue that the policies of the Reagan administration were to blame for cutting welfare programs and making massive cuts in the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD was the main government sponsor of subsidized housing for the poor. The situation was not helped by the fact that poverty also increased during the 1980s. In 1978, 24.5 million people lived below the federal poverty line; by 1988 this had risen to 32.5 million. The gap between rich and poor also increased. Another factor in the rise of homelessness in the 1980s arose from concerns about the rights of the mentally ill. It became harder to commit people to mental hospitals against their will. The result was that many mentally ill people ended up on the streets. It is estimated that one-third of the homeless during the 1980s were mentally ill and that a similar proportion had problems with substance abuse.

Climate Change
Concerns about global warming,...

(The entire section contains 2089 words.)

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