Wednesday, August 8, 2012

When Poverty Doesn't Correlate With Crime, No One Notices

The Chicago Reader recently ran a piece attempting to link poverty and homicide rates. Like in many cases where a media outlet tries to make a badly generalized correlation involving crime, race and class, this article displayed a complete failure in even basic logic. The author of the piece missed a crucial finding in the U.S. Census data upon which he relied: of the five poorest neighborhoods in the city from 2005-2009, the poorest neighborhood (Riverdale) had the second lowest homicide rate. This one statistic completely undermines the author's premise that poverty is linked to homicide rates. Yet, somehow the author (and his editor) didn't even realize it in their rush to get another "inner city crime" story to print.

To make matters worse, the article attempts to correlate homicide rates with the percentage of African-Americans living in a neighborhood. This correlation also fails, as the neighborhood with the second highest percentage of African-American residents (also Riverdale, at 98%) has the second lowest homicide rate. Yet, the author fails to note this disconnect*. More importantly, the author can't explain how he derives his statistics regarding African-American residents, since the Census does not break down its racial statistics by nationality in a way that would allow researchers to separate African-American residents from, say, residents of Dominican or Nigerian descent (they would all be lumped under the much broader descriptor "black"). With that being the case, how does the author derive this statistic unless he lazily believes that African-American is synonymous with black, as if the latter does not encompass every person of African descent around the world?

The author refers to the five poorest neighborhoods as black and the five wealthiest neighborhoods as white and middle class, which I won't bother to argue about, since Chicago's residential segregation has been well-established in various studies, to the point where the situation is even occasionally referred to as "American apartheid". Yet, when the author has sentences in his closing paragraph like "We hate hearing about the murders, but it's not us", it's miraculous that he seemingly believes the ordinarily inclusive "we" and "us" can exclude the residents in the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. The problem is so deep, that even the writers who think they want to help are infected with a segregationist mentality.

* Even the neighborhood with the highest proportion of African-American residents (Englewood, at 99%) only has the second highest homicide rate, behind the neighborhood with the highest homicide rate by roughly 20%.

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