Inequality and Poverty in the United States

Social inequality is a feature of all advanced industrial societies. However, some societies have more inequality than others, and some types of inequality are more prominent in some societies than in others. Inequality in the United States is greater than in many other industrialized nations and has increased dramatically in the past forty years. Economic inequality, for example, is greater today than any time since the 1920s. Growing public awareness of this inequality has sparked a vigorous debate among politicians and public protests in city streets; some that have turned violent. The Occupy Movement was driven largely by resentment against the growing concentration of economic privilege within a small segment of society. Inequality was a prominent theme in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.  Despite these debates and protests, there is no consensus about whether anything should be done to stem this trend.

This class will focus on three domains of inequality in the United States: social class, gender, and racial inequality. The assigned reading and discussions will examine theories and research about the origins of social inequality; how inequality and poverty is reproduced over time; the consequences of inequality and poverty; and what might be done to reduce inequality and poverty in American society. Students will be expected to help lead and participate in class discussions, and to complete a weekly assignment based on the readings.

In addition to the in-class instruction, students will invest substantial time in doing public service directly related to poverty and inequality. Students will work with the Director of Community Engaged Learning (DCEL) from the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity who will assist with their participation in activities connected with social service agencies in the area, including agencies that deal with homelessness, food insecurity, and other needs. Students will also be expected to blog daily about the course and their experiences, and to make a research-based presentation at the end of the course.

Meet the Instructor(s)

C. Matthew Snipp

Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Engagement and Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences

C. Matthew Snipp is professor of sociology and the former director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and has been a research fellow at the Census Bureau and Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. His research focuses primarily on the racial and ethnic demography of American society, especially the demography of the American Indian population and people of multiracial heritage. Professor Snipp has served as an advisor to the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Center for Health Statistics. He currently serves on a National Academy of Science panel evaluating the quality of the 2010 census and plans for the 2020 census.