It is an obvious observation that some of the most crime-prone areas in the United States are also some of the most economically depressed. For instance, Madison County has 12.7 of its residents living below poverty line (http://quickfacts.census.gov). It’s crime rate is higher than the national average and higher than 93% of other of cities and towns in Wisconsin. (http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/wi/madison/crime/#description)
Is this simply a coincidence or does an individual’s economic status determine his or her chances of committing a violent crime?
A number of theories and studies have tried to explain the relationship between income level and propensity to commit violent crime. One study creates a link between childhood poverty and a life of crime.(http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.t01-1-00288.x/full)
Another shows that violent crime such as homicides and robbery goes up in times of economic crises.(http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/crime/GIVAS_Final_Report.pdf)
Yet another links increasing income inequality with a rise in violent crime rate. (http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/conflicts/linking-income-inequality-violent-crime-data-mexico-drug-war).
The conclusion from available data and research is inarguable; poor people commit a higher number of violent crimes than well off individuals. Even when comparing the severity of violence of crimes committed by poor people and those with a higher income, the severity is higher for low-income criminals. It makes sense that a man who hasn’t eaten in a few days or is too broke to afford his next fix is more likely to commit a violent crime against you than your wealthy or middle-class neighbor.
Reasons for the Correlation
Beyond the simple explanation of “poor people are more motivated by lack to steal”, there are a number of reasons why poor individuals are more likely to commit violent crimes as compared to richer people. Some of these factors have a direct effect while others impact indirectly.
1. Lesser education
Those who live in poorer communities tend to also reside in struggling school districts. Since taxes fund public schools, higher income families usually have access to better public education.
With sub-par education, these kids have greater chances of growing into a life of violent crime. The evidence of this is well observable in American prisons. 69 percent of all inmates in the United States did not finish high school. (http://www.educationvoterspa.org/index.php/site/issues/education-and-crime/)
Education level also affects social standing. People of a lower social class are more likely to get involved in violent crime compared to those with higher social status.
2. More exposure to crime
The differential association theory asserts that interaction with other people results in learned attitudes, techniques, values and motives of crime. Based on this theory, exposure of an individual to crimes increases the chances of that individual committing crime.
Low income means one can only live in poor neighborhoods, which are often the most crime-prone. The inevitable interaction with criminal elements breeds violent criminal behavior.
3. Disjointed families
For various reasons, a high number of poor families are not complete, meaning that there is usually only one adult to take care of everyone. It becomes a very difficult task raising kids properly and keeping them on the straight and narrow. Add to that the fact that these families are often living in high crime areas and lacking proper education and it is easy to see the chain effect leading to crime.
4. Low employment
With little education and life skills, employment among the poor is low. Most are doomed to a life of extremely low pay employment or no employment at all. This creates enough motivation to commit violent crimes such as robberies and kidnappings for ransom.
5. Income inequality
There is no better sign of income inequality than the comparison between suburbs and inner cities. While suburbs have the best infrastructure, all amenities and adequate police protection, inner cities are plagued by run-down infrastructure and amenities and little or no law to keep order.
In the end, this inequality creates the perfect environment for violent crime to breed. Even worse is the fact that most of the violent crime committed by poor people is not towards middle income or wealthy persons. It is towards other poor people.
Crime is primarily because of human nature. However, factors such as income level greatly affect the probability of crime in different individuals and at large, communities. These revelations regarding economic status and violent crime are important when it comes to self protection.