Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Social issues in the United States
The United States has created one of the most impressive economies in history, though in a different way than many other developed countries. There are many social and political reasons for this including: values of self-sufficiency, a conservative electorate, effects of the spoils system, and federalism. Socioeconomic issues perceived by social justice advocates include: an "unequal" educational system, poverty, high crime and incarceration rates, and lack of access to health care. Some people believe that the past history of racism and racial segregation is also a major problem today.
Unequal funding of educational system
The US educational system is compulsory for the first 9-12 years of education, depending upon in which state one may reside. While most students upon graduation are between 17 and 18 years of age, many states allow for the student to voluntarily remove themselves from enrollment. This is an action which has come to be termed as "dropping out", as these students have not successfully completed the requirements necessary to gain a diploma, and has created social issues.
Although some funding does come from the federal government, it is almost entirely funded and controlled individually by state and local governments, and school districts. Within a state, primary control of educational system rest with the state, which then delegates authority to local authorities. Although the Department of Education wields some authority, most powers concerning schooling remain with the states.
The funding and condition of the school system in each municipality is largely determined by the school district or local government. In affluent communities, especially those with large numbers of childbearing families, the educational system tends to be more heavily funded on a per student basis and tends to be more effective. Communities that are less affluent or have a lower percentage of childbearing families generally spend less money per child.
Statistical information generated by the No Child Left Behind Act, and similar acts at a state level, demonstrate over and over again the general (but not universal) correlation between money spent per child and academic success. The disparity in public resources is matched by a disparity in private resources as well: affluent parents are able to spend much more money on books, software, tutoring and education-related travel than are other parents.
State governments, since the 1990's have grappled with these issues of educational equity. In some states, most prominently New Jersey, courts have ordered dramatically increased funding in lower income areas. In other states, legislatures have acted on their own initiative to equalize somewhat the funding available. In still other states, little action has been taken.
A legislative advocate for greater educational funding for low and moderate communites in Pennsylvania, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said that "The key issue is how the schools are funded. The more reliance on local property taxes, the greater the inequality of resources for education. The higher the percentage of resources coming from federal and state governments, the more equal the funding can be. Pennsylvania disproportionately gives its statewide resources to the districts that need it most, but the far greater contributions of the more affluent communities still give their students an enormous public funding advantage coupled with their advantage in private resources."
Poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, US foreign policy was largely focused on fighting communism. Some, but not all, socialist-like (the Socialist Party of America and its forks are not players in American politics; See United States Democratic Party, Socialism in the United States) efforts to redistribute wealth from the upper and middle classes towards the lower classes were often met with opposition, perhaps made greater due to the external threat of communism and its connection with socialism. Efforts to break up large conglomerates which started near the turn of the century became less frequent after the Great Depression and in the 1980s and 1990s, there were numerous mergers which recombined companies that had been broken apart in the past. A notable exception includes the US v. Microsoft (Microsoft won this case).
Some political activists blame these mergers for perceived increases in income and wealth inequality during this time, although economists blame the increase on a wider variety of causes, including increasing returns on education, rises in the stock market, the winner-take-all phenomenon , changes in the US tax code , and changes in the composition of households used to compute income and wealth statistics.
While as adults, this problem is easier to overcome because of the nature of American society, as children and teenagers this creates significant problems of inadaequacy between the "richer" and "poorer" students. For instance, the "richer" students will wear the clothes from the brand name stores, creating friction with those who simply cannot afford to shop at the same places. Many districts introduce standardized dress codes to combat this, but "richer" students simply adapt the new rules. It is a problem without a simple solution.
Crime and incarceration
The United States prison population is the highest of any world country, both in absolute and relative numbers. A substantial percentage of people behind bars are drug offenders , which is due to the so-called "war on drugs", a very rigid policy against selling recreational drugs. Incarceration of convicted criminals for long sentences was particularly popular politically in the 1990s, leading to the passage in many states of strict minimum sentencing guidelines and three strikes laws, which lead to incarceration for life after three felonies have been committed, including a number of drug crimes. Special provisions are given in the case of possession of crack cocaine, where there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. This penalty, the harshest of any drug law, primarily affects African-Americans.
Access to health insurance
- Main article: Health care in the United States
The United States does not have a national health care or system of socialized medicine, although programs such as Medicare and Medicaid provide basic health insurance to elderly and poor residents. For most US residents, health insurance is provided as an employee benefit , leaving unemployed and part-time workers to pay for their own insurance. As of 2001, 41.2 million people in the United States (14.6% of the US population), including 8.5 million children, had no health insurance coverage. Efforts to provide universal health care in the 1960s and early 1990s foundered against widespread opposition, particularly by more conservative politicians who objected to government control of medicine and business groups which did not want to experience a loss of profits with the increase of government bureaucracy in the health care and insurance industries. Despite a general agreement, enforced in law, that emergency care must be provided even to the indigent, there is no consensus in the United States that the availability of broader health care should be considered a right, nor that this service should be paid for by the state. 
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