Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: Pt. 4: The Poverty Argument

Leuconoe also points us to Grabmeier’s article, Poverty, not race, tied to high crime rates in urban areas:

A study of Columbus neighborhoods found that violent crime rates in extremely disadvantaged white neighborhoods were very similar to rates in comparable Black neighborhoods.

The violent crime rate in highly disadvantaged Black areas was 22 per 1,000 residents, not much different from the 20 per 1,000 rate in similar white communities. …

In this study, overall rates of violence were nearly three times as high in Black neighborhoods as in white neighborhoods. But that’s because Black neighborhoods are much more likely than white ones to be highly disadvantaged, she said. …

Along with poverty rates, the researchers also compared neighborhoods on other measures of disadvantage: levels of male joblessness, female-headed families, and professionals living in the community. They then calculated a disadvantage index that combined all of these measures.

Violent crime rates were lowest in those neighborhoods with low disadvantage, regardless of whether they were predominantly Black or white. Extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods had violent crime rates that were 16.3 per 1000 higher than rates in low disadvantage neighborhoods.

Do you ever get the impression that some people aren’t quite using all of their brain cells? Like, “Hey guys, we have disproved the theory that every black person is identical, driven by melanin to commit violent crime.”

This is a strawman. Few people seriously believe that all black people are criminals (obviously they aren’t,) or that criminality and poverty aren’t correlated. Criminals do in fact tend to be poor, and poor people are often criminals. This is true for people of all races, yes. If you control for all sorts of factors that correlate with “makes bad life decisions,” then you  are controlling for criminality, which is also a really bad life decision.

Repeat after me: You cannot control for everything.

As I mentioned yesterday, the fact that these correlate doesn’t tell us why blacks are disproportionately likely to be in poor, high-crime communities in the first place.

When people find that criminals tend to be poor, they jump to the assumption that poverty is causing the crime. They don’t seem to consider the option that crime makes criminals poor, makes criminals’ neighborhoods poor, or that people who commit crimes are just dumb, impulsive and suck at making life decisions. In opposition to the “poverty makes people commit crimes” narrative, I present the fact that the US homicide rate rose during the boom time of the 1920s and then fell during the Depression:


It also rose during the Depression. There’s not a whole lot of correlation, though changes in employment level rather than absolute poverty look important.

Returning to Grabmeier:

In addition, the highly disadvantaged Black neighborhoods were more likely than the white neighborhoods to be grouped together, which may intensify the negative effects.

Of course, this could be a real effect. Certain behaviors may amplify and become worse when people who have those traits are in close proximity to one another.

In 1870, St. Louis had 310,864 people. In 1950, it had 856,796. Pruitt-Igoe was built in 1954, and today, St. Louis has about 315,685 people.
In 1870, St. Louis had 310,864 people. In 1950, it had 856,796. Pruitt-Igoe was built in 1954, and today, St. Louis has about 315,685 people.

On the other hand, I also note that almost the entire state of West Virginia is concentrated white poverty, and their homicide rate (4/100k people) still isn’t as bad as St. Louis’s, (59/100k,) Baltimore’s (55/100k,) Detroit’s (44/100k,) or New Orelans’s (41/100k.)

These four heavily black US cities made the list of the world’s 50 most violent cities. No majority white (or Asian) cities made the list, not even cities in impoverished countries like Albania or Cambodia. (Of course, some countries may not keep very good track of homicides.)

World-Murder-Rate-Geocurrents-Map-1024x726Looking globally, China, India, and Bangladesh are all very dense countries with plenty of poverty and homicide rates that are still much lower than much-less densely populated countries in Africa (and Latin America.)

Concentrating poverty may, in fact, be terrible and may encourage criminals to become even more criminal, and crime doubtless lead to feedback loops where everyone who can avoid the neighborhood does their best to leave, leaving behind a concentrated solution of innocent poor people and predatory criminals. And this is exacerbated by the fact that any poor urban population is likely to become highly concentrated simply because it is poor: poor people cannot afford many square feet per person.

But the solution, to spread blacks out more thinly among whites, destroys black communities and exposes them to the danger of white racism/violence/hate crimes, as Tim Wise would point out.

To be continued.



2 thoughts on “Wise Tim, Crime, and HBD: Pt. 4: The Poverty Argument

  1. Economics does not explain much of criminality. High SES blacks have crime rates similar to the lowest SES whites. There’s a much stronger connection of crime to single motherhood than anything else except black. Obviously neither is a politically acceptable explanation.

    So how did one paper find the opposite? I suggest you think about the degrees of freedom the authors had in choosing parameters that might have gone the other way.

    For example, “They then calculated a disadvantage index that combined all of these measures.” Uh hunh. Fudge! What were the weightings and why? Presumably you can determine the what from the paper or by emailing the authors if you’re nosy enough. But the why? Why is “professionals living in the community” 3.2 times as important as “female-headed families”? Only by exploring all the possible weightings can you find out the answer there. I doubt they did. I certainly won’t, and I doubt you will either. (BTW, note that “3.2” is purely made up. I don’t know what the fudge factors are.)

    The largest fudge-factor in that paper is the choice of Columbus. Columbus is the 15th largest city in the USA; presumably any city down to perhaps half its population might have been chosen, but was not. They say the choice was motivated by the fact that Columbus is exceptional: it has census tracts with high white poverty. There’s a thumb on the scale. What results might they have found in those other cities, or all of the cities?

    One final criticism that one easily makes at this study is that when studying crime, you need to focus on criminals. You want to correlate crime with criminals and their attributes and/or circumstances. If unable to study individual criminals, then you want to correlate crime in a given area with the people who live there. But criminals can move around, thereby committing crime in areas in which they do not live. Generally, using larger areas helps with this since criminals (like anyone else) are only moderately mobile. But census blocks are considerably smaller than criminals’ range. (A census block in a city is a city block or so in size.) It may well be, for example, that Columbus has a lot of poor white areas that bump up against poor black areas. If black criminals prefer to target whites, then what you would see in that case is significant crime in the poor white areas that is not caused there. A similar effect is caused if white criminals prefer white victims.

    Here’s some interesting analysis of homicide rates using national county-level data.

    “Race is a strong predictor of homicide rates at a county level. It predicts better than the poverty rate, median household income, racial segregation, income segregation, education rates, and so on and so forth. The single-motherhood rate is a close second though.”


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