Social issues in the United States: Wikis


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Social issues are matters which directly or indirectly affect many or all members of a society and are considered to be problems, controversies related to moral values, or both. In American society, as in many other countries around the world, religion plays an important role regarding social issues.


Specific social issues in the United States

Educational system

The U.S. educational system is compulsory for the first 9 to 12 years of education, depending on the state. While most students graduate between 17 and 18 years of age, many states allow for the student to voluntarily remove themselves from enrollment, or "drop out" without earning a diploma[citation needed].

Although some funding comes from the federal government, public education is almost entirely funded and controlled individually by state and local governments and school districts. Within a state, primary control of the educational system rests with the state, which delegates authority to local authorities [1]. Although the Department of Education wields some authority, most powers concerning schooling remain with the states[citation needed].

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 many school-age children, 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 proportion of families with children generally spend less money per child [1]. Statistical information generated by the No Child Left Behind Act, and similar acts at a state level, demonstrate the general correlation between money spent per child and academic success[citation needed].

State governments since the 1970s have grappled with these issues of educational equity. Despite these attempts, in 1992, the U.S. General Accounting Office stated, "Although most states pursued strategies to supplement the local funding of poor school districts, wealthier districts in 37 states had more total (state and local combined) funding than poor districts in the 1991-92 school year. This disparity existed even after adjusting for differences in geographic and student need-related education costs." [2] 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 somewhat equalize the funding available.[3]

Access to health insurance

The United States does not have universal health care or a system of socialized medicine, although programs such as Medicare and Medicaid provide basic health insurance to elderly, disabled, and poorer residents. For most Americans, health insurance is provided as an employee benefit, while unemployed, part-time, and self-employed workers must pay for their own insurance. As of 2001, 41.2 million people in the United States (14.6% of the US population) had no health insurance coverage, though a significant portion of those are in the U.S. without proper documentation. By 2004, this had risen to 45 million (15.6%). The U.S. Census Bureau attributed the drop primarily to the loss of employer-provided plans due to the economic downturn and a continuation of rising costs.

A recent Harvard University study found that medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. The study found that many declaring bankruptcy were part of the middle class and were employed before they became ill, but had lost their health insurance by the time they declared bankruptcy. In the U.S., people leaving a job can continue with their former employer's health insurance plan under the COBRA at a rate that is usually double the rate the employee paid while employed. When an employer-insured person loses a job due to illness and does not have sufficient resources to continue to pay for COBRA health insurance, they also lose their coverage.

Efforts to provide universal health care in the 1960s and early 1990s floundered against widespread opposition by politicians who objected to government control of medicine and business groups which opposed further regulation of the healthcare and insurance industries. Despite a general consensus, codified in the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, that emergency care must be provided even to the indigent, it is not universally accepted in the United States that the availability of broader health care should be considered a right and paid for by public funds.

Illegal immigration

Illegal immigration in the United States has been a growing controversy in the United States in the last few years. An estimated 23 million illegal aliens, have passed through American borders predominantly from Latin America[citation needed]. The debate over illegal immigration has sparked protests and rallies on both sides of the debate.

Crime and incarceration

The United States prison population is among the highest of any country in the world, in both absolute and relative numbers. A substantial percentage of those behind bars are drug offenders, which is due to the "war on drugs", a policy for targeting and sentencing those engaged in selling and using recreational drugs. Incarceration of convicted criminals with 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 require incarceration for life after three felony convictions, including a number of drug crimes.


Controversies regarding sexuality have become important in American politics and legislation, focusing especially on matters concerning abortion and LGBT issues.

Cost of living

Every time the government raises the minimum wage, prices must rise as well. Some states have a cost of living wage that requires a business to add an additional wage to the minimum wage. The workers make more money, then spend more money, and this gradual inflation is related to the rise in cost of living.

Use of credit and savings rate

The United States has the lowest savings rate of any developed nation. This low savings rate is offset by the high use of credit.


Further reading

  • Douglas S. Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, Russell Sage Foundation Publications 2007, ISBN 0871545853

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