Is poverty the mother of crime?
This is a question most of us find ourselves asking on a daily basis? Why is it that most criminal activities are associated with areas that people are economically malnourished?
As much as the rate of violent crime in the United States has dramatically reduced over the past few decades, some disparities persist. According to the Office of Policy development and research (PD&R), most American neighborhoods with low-income backgrounds and racial and ethnic minorities are still broadly affected by violent crime.
On the other hand, most neighborhoods with lower crime rates have a strong social organization, financial stability, and job opportunities for the youth?
Therefore, is it true that low income normally creates neighborhoods with high crime rates?
Neighborhoods and Crime
Exposure to crime has several negative effects, such as damaging the health and development of the victims, their family members, and the neighborhood as a whole.
Crime plays a huge role in defining a neighborhood. At one time, the low-income neighborhoods were designated as the poor parts of the town, and nobody wanted to live in these areas. This made the economically disadvantaged people inhabit them since the houses were relatively cheaper and the living standards were lower.
Different research studies have proved the hypothesis that crime rates are higher in low-income areas. For instance, one particular study of neighborhoods in 22 cities discovered that violent crimes such as robbery and assault predicted the perception of crime by the residents.
In London, most criminal activities recorded between March 2020 and February 2021 indicated that 80% of the crimes were from the most income-deprived neighborhoods. Robbery, violence, and sexual offenses were 2.3 times more prevalent in low-income areas, while drugs and weapon offenses were 2.6 times more common in these neighborhoods.
Such statistics are only the tip of the iceberg of this complex relationship between high crime rates and low-income neighborhoods. Whereas these data show only the police and law enforcement records, many criminal activities that go unrecorded still happen in these neighborhoods.
Crime and Poverty in the U.S
Practically, anyone can fall prey to crime, but not everyone. The chances of becoming a crime victim depend on factors such as your age, geographical location, particularly your area of residents, and other variables such as the frequency of visiting clubs and restaurants.
However, one of the greatest differences in falling prey to crime is income levels. Most United States residents who live in households with an income level below the federal poverty threshold have crime rates twice those living in high-income level neighborhoods.
Relationship Between the Rate of Crimes and Poverty Levels
Let’s take, for instance, Arlington County, Virginia. It is considered one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S, with a median household income of $105 763. This is almost twice the U.S. median household income that stands at $59 039.
Only 9% of Arlington residents live below the poverty line, a percentage less than the national average of 14.7%. In terms of crime rate, the county’s crime index is 42, and the rate stands at 17.58%, with property crimes having the major share while violent crimes only covering 1.37%.
Lyon Park, Arlington, VA. Photo from trulia.com
On the other hand, let’s look at Garland, Texas. The county’s median household income is $51,997, which is approximately $7000 less than the nation’s average household income and almost $54000 less than the average income of Arlington.
More than 15% of Garland’s residents live under the poverty line, a rate higher than the nation’s average and Arlington. The crime index of the county is 15, with high crime rates of 35%, with property crime covering 32%.
Hanover House Apartments, Garland, TX. Photo from apartments.com
What does this Mean?
From these statistics, it is safe to conclude that the income level of a particular neighborhood highly influences its crime rates. Despite many factors contributing to high crime rates in a particular area, poverty plays a significant role. Even though the wealthy and middle-class neighborhoods such as Arlington experience crime, it is more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods like Garland, TX.
So why is this?
Okay, let’s say that you are struggling to pay your bills and have no idea when you’ll have your next meal or where it will come from. Studies show that if in such a situation, you will more likely end up jailed, and once you fall into this cycle, it will be challenging to break out.
Once you get out of jail, usually you have nowhere to go or even money to sustain you. Therefore, the easiest way to obtain money or goods will be through committing a crime. Studies reveal that criminals only indulge in their activities if they determine that the risk of conducting the offense is more beneficial than the consequences. Thus, those living in poverty tend to commit crimes such as burglary for a better life.
Reasons for High Crime Rates in Low-Income Neighborhoods
There are many reasons why high crime rates are more common in low-income neighborhoods; one could actually write an entire book on this subject.
However, for the sake of time, let’s talk about some of the factors that accompany poverty, making crime more likely to occur.
Like the case of a released inmate, the lack of funds, jobs, or even basic needs will drive them to indulge in certain criminal activities. Poor neighborhoods generally contain poor people. In order to survive, these people need money and basic needs. They will, therefore, more likely turn to crime to obtain these needs.
People in Low-Income Neighborhoods have less to lose
Let’s face it; very few people want to end up behind bars. However, if your life is already in shambles, and you see no bright future thanks to violence, lack of job opportunities, deprivation, or even danger, being locked up is a lesser risk.
On the other hand, a rich kid from a wealthy neighborhood will be more likely to avoid any criminal activities if the consequences involve being incarcerated. A child who lives in a low-income neighborhood spending their days in a rat-infested house surrounded by criminals and gang members is less intimidated by prison.
A Criminal Environment.
Statistically, low-income neighborhoods have a greater percentage of people in prison than wealthy neighborhoods. Because most criminals and ex-criminals tend to come from low-income neighborhoods, there is a shortage of mentors and role models that young people can look up to.
Without good role models, children grow up viewing the criminal life as normal instead of foreign and dangerous. They end up following the paths of their predecessors since nothing seems forbidden if you see it happen every time.
Additionally, such a criminal environment assures young people that the consequences of their criminal actions are not so horrifying since they know many people who have gone through them. To them, indulging in criminal activities is a regular occurrence, something like a rite of passage.
Mental Illnesses and Conditions.
Between the 1960s and the 1970s, the United States began closing down mental hospitals, forcing the patients who lacked formal skills and a place to stay to break the law in various ways and end up incarcerated.
Today, there are several mentally ill patients who just cannot build a functional and healthy life for themselves. These people typically end up poor for some reason and often break the law in one form or another.
When a low-income neighborhood is filled with mentally ill patients, it is less likely to be supported by a strong social system, implying that only the police, in most instances, deal with the issues in these neighborhoods.
We can all agree that a person’s upbringing greatly determines their actions and behaviors as adults. Children who grow up in a bad environment generally tend to make bad choices and decisions.
This situation starts early, from the moment the child leaves the mother’s whom. If the child is from a poor background, they are disadvantaged by default and vice versa. The children are more likely to experience abuse, parental neglect, abandonment, and even high parental divorce rates.
Such conditions significantly and destructively mess up the child’s development in very difficult ways to change or fix as the child grows older. This results in children developing severe anger issues, emotional problems, impaired judgment, and exaggerated aggressiveness, among others.
These children lack resources to help them deal with their problems. Thus they just bottle them in until one day they explode, which sometimes is in turn of committing a crime such as murder or theft.
Statistics prove that low income always creates high crime neighborhoods. This implies that poor people are more likely to commit crimes compared to the wealthy or middle class. This is a mess that more than ten million U.S. citizens live in day after day and is most likely to pass from one generation to the next.
When a child from a low-income background solely interacts with children from poor areas and no middle-income neighborhoods, where all they know is poverty and no one they know has ever experienced success, they will most likely grow up indulging in criminal activities just like they saw the adults do. This is the reason why crime and low-income neighborhoods go together. CWP
Community Watch Paper posts:
High Crime Rates in Low-Income Housing Areas
“Snitching” A Problem for Low Income Communities
ARC GIS. (n.d.). Story map journal Correlation between crime rate and poverty. https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=5508484140a84023a1e2d8b080e14d0a#:~:tex
Chamberlain, A. W., & Boggess, L. N. (2016, September 29). Why disadvantaged neighborhoods are more attractive targets for burgling than wealthy ones. USAPP. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2016/09/26/why-disadvantaged-neighborhoods-are-more-attractive-targets-for-burgling-than-wealthy-ones/
McLaughlin, L. (2011, October 19). The poverty-crime connection. News | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS. https://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2011/oct/19/the-poverty-crime-connection/
Office of Policy development and research (PD&R),. (n.d.). Neighborhoods and violent crime | HUD USER. Redirect. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/em/summer16/highlight2.html
Trust for London. (2021). Crime and income deprivation. https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/data/crime-and-income-deprivation/