Social Issues: Definition & Examples

Social issues or problems are prevalent in all cultures. This lesson will describe what constitutes a social issue and provide examples of major social issues facing the United States today.

Social Issues

Jenna thinks her sixteen-year-old daughter Becky is pregnant. Jenna is worried because she wants Becky to finish high school and go to college. She takes Becky to the doctor for a pregnancy test, which confirms that Becky is about four months pregnant. After discussing options, Becky makes the decision to keep her baby and enter into motherhood. Jenna has no idea how they will cope financially or emotionally.

A social issue or problem is an issue that has been recognized by society as a problem that is preventing society from functioning at an optimal level. It is important to understand that not all things that occur in society are raised to the level of social problems. Four factors have been outlined that seem to characterize a social issue or problem. These include:

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  1. The public must recognize the situation as a problem.
  2. The situation is against the general values accepted by the society.
  3. A large segment of the population recognizes the problem as a valid concern.
  4. The problem can be rectified or alleviated through the joint action of citizens and/or community resources.

Becky’s teenage pregnancy, for example, is considered a social issue because it is commonplace, is recognized as a problem because it burdens the welfare system, goes against societal values, and can be alleviated through collective action and community resources. To name every social issue is beyond the scope of this lesson, but we will look at a few examples of social issues that are recognized and important problems in the United States today.

Common Social Issues

In addition to teen pregnancy, there are a vast number of important identified social issues in the United States today. Let’s look at five of these and why they are problematic.

First up, we have terrorism. Terrorism is generally defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as illegal dangerous acts to human life that are meant to intimidate or coerce through mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. Terrorism can be both domestic or international. It has become a social issue because of its increased domestic prevalence within the United States. These terrorist acts have changed the general quality and way of life, and the majority of citizens believe that solidarity can minimize the occurrence of such incidents.

Next we have poverty. Poverty, or individuals lacking the finances to adequately provide for their self or family, in the United States is a social issue that has tremendous impacts. The 2014 census reported that more than 45 million people in the United States today live in poverty. This is an 11% increase over poverty numbers recorded in 2010. Poverty places a burden on the public welfare system and impacts the taxes all working Americans have to pay.

Now we’ll examine climate change . The reality that global warming is changing the Earth can no longer be ignored. Although many people identify climate change as an environmental issue, it is a social issue as well because it impacts farmers and the crops they produce, it impacts the homeless and their sources of shelter, and it could force the relocation of entire communities.

Let’s examine gun control. The increase in mass shootings throughout the United States has brought the issue of gun control into the spotlight as a social issue. There has been a public outcry to restrict the sale of certain types of weapons and to increase the security and background checks that are conducted on those who are seeking to purchase guns.

Finally, we’ll look at refugees. Refugees are people who are seeking shelter within the United States for protection from the inhumane conditions they are faced with in their country of origin. The Syrian refugee crisis has put a lot of economic strain on many nations including the United States, and there is currently a great debate on whether to welcome or restrict entry into the United States to foreign-born nationals.

Lesson Summary

Social issues or problems are socially recognized areas of concern that go against normal or optimal functioning of society. In order for a social occurrence to be elevated to a social issue, four factors should be present as follows:

  1. The public agrees the issue is a problem.
  2. The issue goes against values embraced by society.
  3. The majority of the population sees the issue as a concern.
  4. The issue can be solved or reduced.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of social issues faced by the United States today. Five important ones that have significant impact include:

  1. Terrorism
  2. Poverty
  3. Climate Change
  4. Gun Control
  5. Refugees

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