With so many millions of people unemployed in present
day Australia it is important to understand what led to such a situation. This essay discusses unemployment as a social
problem, it will explain and apply key concepts of conflict theory to the
social problem of unemployment in current day Australia. Following there are four main sections to
this essay. Firstly, a social problem
will be defined, followed by an examination of unemployment as a social problem
within Australia today. Secondly,
conflict theory will be defined, discussing a number of key conflict theorists’
views. Thirdly, two conflict theory
concepts (1) class inequality; and (2) cultural capital will be defined and applied
to unemployment as a social problem in an attempt to better understand the
origins of the problem. This essay will
conclude with a reflection of how conflict theory helps to understand the
social issue of unemployment in Austraila.
A social problem is a social issue that
adversely affects not just single individuals but a large enough number of
people for collective action to be taken in an attempt to resolve the issue (Hart, 1923).
Leon-Guerrero, (2013) suggests there are objective and subjective
elements to social problems. Objective
in that it can be confirmed by data that there is a problem affecting a
considerable number of people. For
example, according to Australian Bureau of
-b), there are 707,300.00 Australian people unemployed and there are a number
of orginasitions charged with assisting unemployed people. One such orginisatoins is the Australian Government Department of Human Unemployment.
Social problems are subjective in that the problem is only a problem if it
is perceived as one, it depends on our collective sense of reality.
According to The Australian
Bureau of Statistics (2017. -a), in Australia from 2016 – 2017, 22% of men compared with
34% of women aged 20 – 74 years of age were not in the labour force and for
those aged 55 years and upwards unemployment figures begin to rise dramatically. A National Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Social Survey released in March 2017, shows an unemployment rate of
25% within these communities (Abs, 2017. -d). The ABS (2017. -c), estimated that 1.4 million
or 21% of all families in Australia were without work in June 2017. Of these around 339,000 families had dependents
and an estimated 576,900 children aged 0-14 years were living in jobless
families. In November 2017, (Department
of Parliamentary Services/Penny Vandenbroek, 2017, Table
1), indicated that the youth
unemployment rate, referring to people aged
between 15 and 24, was at 12.9% or 2,113,000. Migrants from North Africa and the middle east
show the highest unemployment among migrants at a rate of 11.7%, (ABS, 2017
-e). Finally, as of November 2017, according to (Department
of Treasury and Finance, 2017, Table 2, Long term unemployment, Tasmania and Australia, year average
original data), overall there were 170,900.00 long-term unemployed people
living in Australia.
These figures show
unemployment to be a significant problem affecting a large number of people
living in Australia. Expenses and net capital investment (2017), suggests unemployment adversely affects government
tax revenue, with increased numbers of people acquiring the old age pension,
early retirement pay increases, a reduction of superannuation and overall
greater spending on other social services.
Further, suggesting that unemployment resource pressures on the economy
will lower growth overall. In
2019–20, the Australian Government estimates that it will spend around
$191.828 billion on social security and welfare (Expenses
and net capital investment, 2017).
According to ABS (2017), unemployment in Australia
currently stands at 5.4%. Further, Mohanty et al., (2016), states jobless families cost the government AU$5.55
billion per year.
(1966); Colleges, (2012); Carl, J., et al. (2011), note Karl Marx (1881 – 83) as the
original conflict theorist. Marx along
with Fredrick Engels (1820 – 1895) in their 1848 work The Communist Manifesto
explain society to date as a history of class struggle. Struggles between competing classes of
“dominant and subordinate” or “oppressor and oppressed” in constant competition
for finite resources (Marx & Engel, 1848, p 14; Colleges 2012, p 20). Conflict theory looks at society from a
macro-level perspective, meaning that it takes a broad view looking at the
whole of society rather than at individual members. It explains society as being an unequal system
with individuals in constant competition for scarce or limited resources
“social, political and material such as political power, leisure time, money,
housing and entertainment” (Colleges 2012, p 19; Marx
& Engel, 1848, p 14). Moreover, the different groups within society
for example religious groups, government orginisations or corporate bodies all
have such innate inequalities with constant competition for limited resources. The successful will use the power gained to
remain in power and quell the unsuccessful from progressing and the unequal
system is perpetuated. (Colleges, 2012, p 19 – 20; Marx & Engel, 1848, p
16; Bessant and Watts, 2007, p327). Marx (1848), coined the word bourgeoisie to
describe the ruling classes with the power and wealth and proletariat to
describe the working classes. Tanabe,
Jennifer (2013); Carl, J., et al. (2011), suggests conflict theory can be
understood using a pyramid structure metaphor.
Fewer in number the ‘elite’ at the top of the pyramid hold most of the
power and wealth and can prescribe terms to the masses which grow in number the
less-skilled, less powerful or the poorer they are. The social structures of
society are designed by the bourgeoisie and conflict theory suggests the system
is therefore always in their favour, regardless of this competing groups
constantly vie for more power and or wealth.
Marx determined the proletariat would only endure a limited amount of
oppression using the term ‘class-consciousness’ to describe the realisation by
the proletariat of the injustices, further, suggesting in time they would unite
and revolt against the oppressive bourgeoisie becoming the dominant class (Bessant and Watts, 2007).
Later sociologists have expanded on Marx theories. German theorists Max Weber (1978) developed
on Marx’s solely class based theory of economic struggle suggesting there is
also competition for “political power and social status”, also disagreeing that
conflict within society’s will certainly lead to revolution (Bessant &
Watts, 2007, p 329; Colleges, 2012, p 20).
Another German sociologist, Georg Simmel (1858 – 1981) suggests that
conflicts can be smaller than a revolution and can in fact benefit in stabilising
a society (Colleges, 2012).
Class Inequality developed by Marx is a key concepts
of conflict theory. It suggests that the
few people or groups with ownership of the means of production hold all the
power and wealth in society and will maintain this by inhibiting others from
progressing though whatever means they can (Robinson, 1979). According to research by Richardson (2014), Australia’s
seven richest people have more wealth than the 1.73million homes in the bottom
20 percent of society, suggesting a continued growing disparity between the wealthy
and less wealth. Furthermore, a study by
Andrews (2004), investigating employment outcomes for youths from lower and
higher SES backgrounds found that youths from lower SES backgrounds had increasingly
higher outcomes of future unemployment which was shown to be intergenerational
highlighting the fact that power and wealth in society is persistently maintained
by the wealthy classes.
Cultural Capital is another key concept of conflict
theory developed by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1977). Cultural capital suggests that people with
power and wealth will naturally associate with and have useful connections with
people of similar situation. This may
occur on a subconscious level; the theory suggests this results from life
experiences of exposure to such things as reading particular books or playing
and listening to particular forms of music and art or travel. People from more affluent backgrounds are
more likely to possess such ‘cultural capital’ while those from less fortunate origins
will not. (Bessant and Watts, 2007, p367). Hunter (2000), uses the example of Indigenous
Australians in the mainstream job market.
He suggests they may have a strong ‘cultural capital’ within their own indigenous
community while not having mainstream ‘cultural capital’. This lack of connections or networks within
the mainstream will inhibit their opportunity of finding gainful employment
within the mainstream job market. He
further suggests this might deter ambitions or aspiration due to the reality of
a mainstream job being unattainable which will not only affect the individual
but their families and children who learn the nature of things from their
parents. This example highlights the
negative and perpetuating outcome of not possessing the required ‘cultural
This essay has shown
unemployment in Australia is an objective social problem that adversely affects
not only an unemployed individual but affects the wider community.
An example of an indigenous
Australian in the mainstream job market has highlighted how ‘cultural capital’
affects unemployment in society. Conflict
theory has offered valuable insight to understanding the origins of
unemployment in Australia.
conclusion, conflict theory is a good framework to help underst