Social Policy Issues In America
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When discussing current, we must first understand the different ways in which our society requires assistance from the government in order to meet some of the basic human needs. Whether we are talking about employment opportunities, social welfare programs, education, healthcare, or the general wellbeing of the individual, social policy is there to address how those needs are met. By discussing, implementing, and reviewing social policy issues, the government is offering a response to those challenges faced by society, especially when considering changes in social institutions. This is done by analyzing the various role of those institutions, starting with the family and its wellbeing, and how supporting it helps in the development of a better, healthier society.
The main aim of social policy, especially in America, is to not only identify those issues that are affecting society, but to actually find solutions to those societal questions, mainly by providing services and assistance to those most vulnerable among the people. One of the most important ways in which governments safeguard society from the aredverse consequences of socioeconomic disadvantage is by providing programs and enacting policies based on social assistance. Social policy has always played a significant role in the protection of the most important of the social institutions: the family. Proponents and advocates for changes in social policy have directed their plans toward an improvement of the living conditions of the American family, especially as related to education, social services, the workforce, and healthcare.
Social policy has been designed to promote equality and wellbeing as the right of the individual, taking special consideration to those social problems associated with poverty and income insecurity. As a societal concern, the generalized view of poverty considers it to be a combination of economic need and behavioral malfunction. When discussing the economic need of those who are considered poor or unusually needy, society associates this term with the disabled, orphans, widows, and the like, as there is a need for a minimum level of income to support them. The behavioral aspect of poverty, on the other hand, focuses on vagrants, addicts, or the homeless, as they are thought of as victims of their own circumstances (Ibid.).
One of the oldest doctrines linked to the exercise of effective statesmanship and efficient governance is based on reliable knowledge. This is a very trustworthy instrument used by decision makers and social policy advocates when working to address and find solutions to societal problems (Head 2010, 78). This distinctive foundation of statesmanship and the link between knowledge and power has been closely associated with governmental awareness of the empirical social sciences, including social psychology, political science, economics, and sociology. The values behind this knowledge and understanding of social sciences has been instrumental not only in having better tools in governing a nation, but also in addressing social issues and concerns by means of public policy.
In America, public policy, and especially, social policy, is a reflection of the various changes that have taken place throughout its history. But this is the result of the never-ending changes and development of a healthy society, which continuously evolves while maintaining stability and control. Some of the most influential rewards that is used by society to regulate human behavior are found in status and money. For many individuals, the driving force behind making money is social mobility. It is said that forces in the government and society make use of social status and the ambition that comes from it in order to ensure that the lower and middle classes devote their lives to the improvement and safeguard of the economy. If this is not true, then how come there are people who are willing to work endless hours just to purchase those goods and services that will, if not move them from one social status to another, at least help them display a false sense of security?
Nevertheless, the history of social policy in America has revealed an array of government programs aimed to provide social assistance to poor Americans, hoping some of them find such incentives as a way to move up the social ladder, or in the worse case scenario, stay afloat during difficult times. Many of those programs are actually a combination of federal and state efforts, with the administration of the program being either held by the federal government or local agencies, or at times, as a collaboration between both. Most beneficiaries receive assistance from multiple programs, as eligibility to a social program or public benefit generally opens the door to others.
In Engaging Social Welfare: An Introduction to Policy Analysis, Stern discussed the various historical classes that have existed between the political and economic forces in America. These are the same forces that have helped shaped social policy, especially when considering welfare and other public benefits and services, advocated by activists and social workers as a way to end poverty and need in American society. However, the fact is that throughout history, new policies eventually lead to new politics, and policymakers must think ahead of their time, implementing this when devising new policies. Because of this, it is crucial for the politician to consider the ability to not only mobilize or mollify the opposition, but also to crease new pressures that will lead to further public policy action, which can either appease or outrage others, even in the policymaker’s own party.
Thus, it is important to analyze social policies not just as a mean to achieve the necessary economic and social goals of the government and society, but as a form of political instrument designed to enhance the ability of its creator to improve changes of achieving long term political goals. Public policy, and more specifically, social policy, has been designed to influence public opinion in ways which correspond to the enacting government’s political goals. Social welfare programs, for example, were originally engineered as a way for society to be more accepting of the lower classes, while at the same time pushing the Democratic agenda. Development of the modern welfare state in America can be traced all the way back to the times of the Great Depression, when Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935.
Other programs eventually followed, society being particularly inundated in the 1960s and 1970s with various types of social insurance programs, which were based their eligibility on the individual having worked the right amount of hours in the past, and earning a sufficient level of earnings in order to qualify. Social Security retirement benefits, along with the different state unemployment insurance payment plans, are examples of this type of eligibility. Due to the widespread poverty that existed in America in the postwar years, society saw the need for additional government intervention as a tool to help those families that were in dire need to assistance and public support. These years saw the birth of the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid, and Medicare. While Medicare coverage is focused on elderly individuals, food stamps and Medicaid are geared toward all individuals who are not financially able to access the appropriate amount of nutritional needs or medical care.
The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program were next, while housing programs saw an expansion in the 1970s, along with SSI and WIC. Rather than being temporary programs to help certain sectors of society during the postwar years, these social programs have become ingrained in American society, and in many cases are deterrents to the economic solvency of the family, particularly when they don’t offer incentives to improve the recipient’s financial status. However, a new perspective was eventually shared by many policymakers, as they pondered on the issue of poverty. There were many who believed that if poor members of society were part of a victim caste, then there was a need to change public social policy in order to solve this issue.
The reason behind this was the stigma associated with social welfare programs, recipients of which were considered by others as inferior. This new train of thought led to many administrative changes in the eligibility aspect of benefits, and for several officials to be sent out to the communities trying to provide a new, different view about social programs, including welfare benefits. This new policy sought to seek out those members of society who were needy yet were afraid of the connotations of being the recipient of a public benefit.
The movement emphasized the universality of the social insurance programs and their effectiveness in reducing poverty, along with the necessity to support social assistance programs, which provided a minimum level of wellbeing among those it was destined for. Thanks to these new tactics, the Food Stamp program saw a growth in the 1980s, but the numbers of recipients or beneficiaries fell and resurfaced as the economy tumbled or improved. There were times where reforms to the program eligibility criteria, as well as reductions to the paperwork involved, served as encouragement for families to participate in the program.