The purpose of this assignment is to have you focus on the underlying ideological perspectives that the media uses to portray social issues
A gap between the rich and the poor has always existed. In current years, however, the gap has increased dramatically. In the article by Steven Kerstetter, “The Affordability Gap”, he uses recent statistics to highlight just how dramatic the increase between the rich and the poor has gotten.
He describes spending patterns as having a simple theme, “the more you have, the more you spend” (p. 3). As incomes increase, so does spending. He also describes poverty as not only a matter of low income, but is also “based on whether people are able to participate in a meaningful way in the society around them” (p. 4). He uses statistics from the Survey of Household Spending done each year by Statistics Canada. He then uses Statistics from this survey to describe just how large the gap between the rich and the poor has gotten.
The survey has divided spending expenditures into six categories: food, shelter, clothing, household operation, transportation, recreation, income taxes, and other spending. Household incomes are broken down into five groups of 20% quintiles. One person households made up 67% of the poorest quintile and 5% of the richest quintile. Two person households are more common in higher quintiles, probably because these households have two incomes coming in. Seniors also make up 42% of the poorest quintile and 5% of the richest quintile. Spending has increased as wages have increased. However, the smallest increases in spending have been in the poorest quintile, with the largest increases happening in the richest quintile.
The statistics are broken down into estimates of how much each quintile is spending on each of the six categories of spending expenditures. Spending on food is broken down into two categories, money spent on food bought in grocery and corner stores, and food from restaurants, snack bars and vending machines. The poorest quintile spent $3,134 on food bought from grocery stores and this rose to $11,321 in the richest quintile. Money spent on shelter was divided up between renting and owning households. These statistics show a large increase in home owners and a decline in renters as incomes rise. The article states that items in the survey, other than food and shelter, vary greatly in each quintile. He points out that this helps to indicate the extent of social inclusion or social exclusion.
Child care percentages were hard to evaluate because of differing costs and governments normally provide more child care support to low income families. Owning vehicles and travelling by plane increased in the richest quintile, but using local transportation stayed in the same range across quintiles.
The category of recreation covers leisure activities, including sports equipment, computer equipment, home entertainment, movies, live sports, performing arts, museums, and newspapers. Again, Steven points out that it shows that the more money people have, the more they spend on recreation. He suggests that museums and art galleries may not have such low numbers, in both categories, if the government opened them to the public at no charge.
The amount of alcohol bought in the richer quintiles may reflect the “larger household sizes, more frequent drinking and more expensive wines and liquors purchased” (p. 14). He points out the difference.
He then finishes the article by looking at income taxes on 2007 income, and two types of payroll deductions: charitable donations and life insurance premiums. He acknowledges that “aside from half the houses in the poorest quintile” (p. 15), the amount paid jumped from quintile to quintile. He attributes this to the fact that people in the poorest quintile were on such income programs as welfare or the Federal Guaranteed Income supplement that are tax free. Some households may also have market incomes that were lower than the taxable minimum income.
This article presents a strong social democratic view. It highlights the isolation of the poor. It presents aspects of the social democratic views on human nature, social beliefs, economic values and social welfare.
Human nature, from the social democratic viewpoint, describes people as social animals (Nixon, 2009). In order to reach our full potential, we need to be able to live together, as a community (Nixon, 2009). However, we have been corrupted by capitalism, which is way we have a divide between the rich and the poor (Nixon, 2009). Being a capitalist society, we have emphasized competition and making profit. However, we fail to realize the differing circumstances people are in. For example, it is much easier to go to university when you are living at home and your parents are paying for classes. If you were a mother of three, with bills to pay, university would be a hard goal to accomplish.
The article shows us, in official statistics, that this gap is growing, promoting isolation. With increasing incomes of the rich, the article shows that spending on basic items were sometimes six to seven times higher in these households (p.16). Steven Kerstetter uses food as an example to show how different spending on basic items is between the richest quintile and the poorest quintile: average spending on food was three times higher in the richest quintile then the poorest quintile (p.16). He states that differences between the two groups show two kinds of social exclusion between these two groups: the amount spent on basic necessities and the amount spent on items that are non-vital to survival (p.16). According to social democracy, this isolation is limiting people to reach their full potential.
The government should implement training programs that are affordable to everyone. Or by making the “playing field” equal by, for example, providing free childcare and shelter to a single mother who going back to university. This way, the mother can focus more on her education and less about paying bills. By not helping people out, we are wasting economical resources (Nixon, 2009).
This brings us to social beliefs in social democracy, which states that we need to promote equality between humans. To do this, we would need government interventions to “de-emphasize competition” (Nixon, 2009). Society should be promoting equality, rather than inequality that some are faced with today. However, since we live in a capitalist society, not a lot has been done to advance this ideal. The government should be promoting full employment and well developed social welfare programs. The article suggests that a substantial increase in minimum wage and welfare rates is needed (p. 16).
Social democracy is based on a structural model (Nixon, 2009) and because of this we need to find the root of the problem in order to restructure things. Inequality is brought about by people having unfair advantages, such as being born into a rich family (Nixon, 2009). The government needs to find a way that all people have access to the same opportunities, such as university, college and employment. Humanitarianism promotes a minimum standard of living (Nixon, 2009), which the government needs to help promote in society otherwise the gap between the rich and the poor is going to continue to increase. The people in the poorer quintiles should also have a say in what programs are instated to help them. The programs would be created to help them, and they would know best what would be beneficial in their lives. Giving poorer quintiles a say in what programs are created and used would hopefully maximize the benefits of the programs.
Social democracy believes that social welfare should be the central social value (Nixon, 2009). The government should be promoting a network of social services and income security programs (Nixon, 2009). This would prevent social problems and give social justice (Nixon, 2009). People deserve to be able to support their families and to have the opportunity for employment (Nixon, 2009). These are basic human rights. These opportunities would also help individuals feel connected to the rest of society, which would make them less likely to cause social problems. Doing this would decrease the amount of problems faced by our society. This would also help our society economically, as all individuals would have the same opportunities. This would be beneficial since an individual may have the potential to be a genius, but without being given the opportunity to do so, this potential may never be realized.
In conclusion, poverty is limiting people to reach their full potential. From a social democratic view, it is the government’s job to implement social welfare programs to help deal with the source of this problem and to help people have equal opportunity. Otherwise, a continually increasing gap will continue to occur between the poor and the rich, furthering social isolation between these two groups.
Nixon, K. (2008, October 14). Social Democracy and Marxism. Presented at a SWRK 1310 lecture at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.
Kerstetter, S. (2009). The Affordabiltiy Gap: spending differences between Canada’s rich and poor (p.3-17). Canadian centre for policy alternatives. Retrieved October 17, 2009, from www.growinggap.ca