Somewhere in the United States, a young mother is forced to choose between providing food or healthcare for herself and her children because she can’t afford to do both.
Meanwhile, a group of gang members decides to make a drive-by shooting in a rival gang’s territory, killing three innocent victims and wounding others.
In another portion of the country, a man is being sent to death-row, to the electric chair, for a crime he did not commit.
Still, somewhere else, a woman is denied employment because she’s black, not white.
Poverty, violence, justice, human rights, equality and crime are all examples of solid, contemporary social problems that can easily be found within the society we call our own here in the United States.
Only when a problem is recognized by the majority of society as threatening or harmful to the lives and commonly established values of the people, and that action should be taken against it, is the issue elevated to social status.
Certainly, there is significant difference between a social problem and a personal problem. A personal problem arises due to a person’s own choices and the effects those decisions have for that individual alone. An example of this is a person who is consistently late for work because they take it upon themselves stay out late every night. When this person is reprimanded or even fired from their place of work, the problem is considered personal because the individual had complete control of the problem from the very start. This person could easily have decided not to stay out late on nights before work, or at least be home early to prepare for work on the following day. There are little or no outside forces affecting an issue on a personal level.
On the other hand, if this person were consistently late for work due to the manner in which the public transportation system was set up, perhaps a bus only arrives several hours before work starts, or several after, this would lean more towards being a social issue than a personal issue. In this case, the individual has much less control over the forces affecting the time they arrive at work and perhaps it might become necessary for society to move for a better system of public transportation in order to remedy the problem.
Not only are social problems sweeping, but they are interrelated, with damages all the more wide-spreading. Take for instance an example from the video titled, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Prices. As the title indicates, Wal-Mart Corporation is cutting corners in order to provide its customers low prices on products. However, those corners are coming from the paychecks and benefit plans of its employees.
Two women were focused on in the video, one of whom described the difficulty of raising a family being a single-mother on the wages and costly benefits provided by this corporate giant. Because of the low wages and limited benefits, this woman was forced to apply for government welfare (don’t even get me started on the income disparity between men and women).
In this situation, there are four social problems at work in dire combination: healthcare, welfare, poverty and corporate power. Usually, if a person is living in poverty or under the poverty line, they are more likely to be unable to afford healthcare, and just as more likely to request government assistance. At the head of this issue sits Wal-Mart, but as the video titled, “The Corporation,” demonstrates, Wal-Mart is not the only corporate figure to inflict such serious damage to society. Hundreds of other corporations serve similar functions every day. It is truly a disastrous cycle that these social problems usually take; like a line of falling dominoes, the problems follow each other. One such dangerous and detrimental cycle that could result from this is child abuse/neglect and drug addiction.
Undoubtedly, social problems are much larger than individual issues because they affect a much bigger portion of society. Say for instance, one might call an employee’s issue with Wal-Mart, or any other corporation really, a personal problem, because that individual has the choice to apply to work for another employer, or one that’s not associated with a corporation.
However, there are thousands of corporations in the United States that employ hundreds of thousands of people, so it would be difficult to find a job not working for a corporation. Also, if everyone who worked for a corporation or corporate entity quit their job, this country would immediately fall apart because corporations are many times responsible for the smaller companies we use the services of on a daily basis (e.g. Fox News Corp. controls Roundup weed killer). Corporations also control much of the economy of this country with the stock market and business. So realistically, there is only one way to classify a problem such as this, and that would be as a social one. Personal problems can sometimes be encompassed by a larger social issue, and many times are, but are not social issues themselves.
I will never forget the first time I went to a doctor by myself. It was just after my 18th birthday, and I had the feeling of great independence. From the point of scheduling the appointment, all the way up until the moment I looked at the $120 doctor’s bill, that is. The type of insurance I had didn’t cover the specific procedure I had done, so I was required to pay full price. I didn’t know this beforehand, and it made me think about the fact that if I didn’t have a decent job and generous father to help me out – as many people in this country do not – I wouldn’t be able to pay this bill, and therefore wouldn’t have the healthcare access I needed. I realized at this very moment that the healthcare system in the United States could potentially use some revision and certainly constituted a social problem, not a personal problem.
Social problems surround us day in and day out, providing affects that are sweeping and potentially cyclic with damaging implications. If society doesn’t come together in a collective effort to combat these important issues, there’s no chance that they disappear any time soon.