We must rein in violent crime to help those who need economic opportunity

We must rein in violent crime to help those who need economic opportunity

We must rein in violent crime to help those who need economic opportunity

Originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times

 

Key Points

  • The rise in crime rates and the following fear around such crimes is impacting the stability of many communities.
  • Studies have repeatedly found that increases in violent crime reduce economic mobility and hamper private sector job growth.
  • A city can substantially reduce crime by focusing law enforcement, corrections and social service resources on a relatively small number of people.

The rise and fear of crime

Americans are more worried about crime than they have been in decades. A recent poll found that 8 in every 10 Americans say they worry about crime either “a great deal” (53%) or “a fair amount” (27%).

This fear is driving businesses large and small out of cities and neighborhoods with rising crime rates. By abandoning these high-risk locations, these businesses take with them any job opportunities they provide to poorer residents.

Local and state governments must focus on reducing violent crime, not just as necessary to protect human life but also because doing so is a prerequisite to real economic opportunity in poor communities.

Increased concern about crime has followed a sharp increase in violent crime, especially homicides over the last six years. In 2021, 12 major cities saw their deadliest year on record. Chicago had its deadliest year in a quarter century.

In recent comments to the Economic Club of Chicago, McDonald’s President and CEO Chris Kempczinski noted that out-of-control violent crime, homelessness and drug overdoses in Chicago were negatively impacting both McDonalds’ restaurant locations and corporate recruitment to the city. He’s committed to staying in Chicago, but other companies across the country are already closing down retail locations in areas experiencing surges in crime.

 

Kevin had just climbed out of the prison system only to be faced with another challenge…finding work and seizing opportunity. Kevin’s inspirational drive to overcome his situation and to pursue opportunity reminds us of the need for systems that expand opportunity to all.

Kevin had just climbed out of the prison system only to be faced with another challenge…finding work and seizing opportunity. Kevin’s inspirational drive to overcome his situation and to pursue opportunity reminds us of the need for systems that expand opportunity to all.

Impact on Business

Starbucks announced it would close 16 locations in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., over safety concerns. Walgreens is closing five stores in San Francisco due to rampant crime. Small businesses from Seattle to Minnesota are citing crime as the reason they’re closing their doors.

While large businesses may not be the most sympathetic victims of the nation’s dramatic increase in violent crime, the people this crime hurts the most continue to be those from the most socially isolated and economically disadvantaged communities.

Studies have repeatedly found that increases in violent crime reduce economic mobility and hamper private sector job growth. One study found that changes in the rates of violent crime substantially impacted the economic mobility of children raised in low-income families. As crime went up during childhood and adolescence, their level of economic mobility went down.

Another study found that increases in violent crime cause existing businesses to downsize and discourage new businesses from entering the marketplace. No amount of economic incentives the government can provide will entice businesses to open in dangerous areas with low-recruitment potential. As a result, increasing crime will reduce the economic opportunities for lower-income residents.

 

A solution exists

Thankfully, while the problem of violent crime is large, it is not insurmountable. But reversing these trends will require understanding how we got here and what works to reduce crime.

Don’t expect crime to abate with the pandemic. Those who yearn for “pre-pandemic” crime rates ignore that in many cities, these increases began in 2015 when American cities had a more than 10% increase in murder over 2014, and 2016 saw another 8% increase on top of that. Gangs continued to operate unabated during government-ordered lockdowns, and given the retaliatory nature of so much street violence, increased violent crime often begets increased violent crime.

Next, crime, especially serious and violent crime, is concentrated among a very small number of gang members in any given city. Typically, about 0.6% of a city’s population is involved with these kinds of groups, while they’re responsible for 50% of a city’s homicides. It also tends to concentrate around certain areas; about 3% to 5% of specific addresses are responsible for about 50% of a city’s crime.

This means a city — even one plagued by gang violence like Chicago — can substantially reduce crime by focusing law enforcement, corrections and social service resources on a relatively small number of people. Strategies that do so have substantially reduced homicides from Boston, Massachusetts, to Stockton, California.

Failure to do so will only make our poorest neighborhoods poorer. Large and wealthy corporations like Citadel can leave for greener and safer pastures with relative ease. But failure of local and state officials to rein in violent crime will leave those with no means to leave with fewer opportunities to improve their lives.

 

 

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