Poverty is broadly defined as insufficient resources for an adequate standard of living. (ECLAC, 2008). Crime is defined as action against the law or violation of the law (Finkelhor, 2009). Glaeser and Kahn (2008) have indicated in their research on Chicago inner-city communities that an adolescent getting exposed to crime due to poverty has 100 times more probabilities to commit crimes later in his life. Finkelhor (2009) in his research sought an answer for the root causes of criminal behavior. He found a relationship between poverty and criminal activity. His findings show that a poor person is five times more likely to commit a crime than that of a person from rich background (Finkelhor, 2009). His research came up with the finding that people prone to criminal and violent behavior often hail from disturbed and poor families. They also live in poor disadvantaged neighborhoods of a city. A group of researchers examined the crime rates between 1989 and 1991 in Columbus, Ohio on the basis of their study on poor neighborhoods. They categorized the neighborhoods into three sections; those with less than 20% poverty rate, those with 20-40% poverty rate and those with over 40% poverty rate (Grabmeier). They also compared the neighborhoods on the basis of disadvantage including female-headed families, levels of male joblessness and professionals living in the community. Their study showed that extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods with more than 40% poverty rate, male joblessness and female-headed families have 16.3 per 1000 higher crime rates compared to the neighborhoods with low disadvantage and less poverty rate (Grabmeier). This essay delves further into the issue examining the relationship between poverty and crime.
What is Poverty and Crime?
Poverty is a widespread problem in a society. Poverty is categorized into two main sub sections: income poverty and non-income poverty. Income poverty arises when people don’t earn enough to purchase even the basic necessities of life including food, clothing and shelter. Non-Income poverty arises when people may have little bit of money but lack the required access to amenities like education, health, good water, sanitation, safe housing and transportation facilities (Hakikazi, 2008). The first type of poverty requires adequate attention and policy initiatives on behalf of the government. The overall economic development can create jobs, demand and wealth to improve the condition. The second type of poverty has specific developmental needs like the assurance of safety from the authorities and the creation of social services and infrastructure. (Hakikazi, 2008).
Crimes can be broadly classified into four categories. Crime against person, crime against property, victimless crime and white collar crime are the main types of crimes. Crime against a person and crime against property are the two most common types of crimes (Crossman, 2013). It is also seen that these first two types of crimes are common among young, urban, poor and racial minorities (Crossman, 2013).
In USA, more than 67% of the poor population lives in inner-cities and 22% of the poor lives outside the central city. The poverty rate in central cities in whole of USA is 19.9% compared to 7.5% in metropolitan areas outside the central city (Glaeser, Matthew and Jordan, 2008). The prime reason for most of the poor living in and around cities is the number of income opportunities in urban areas as opposed to rural areas (Emily, 2013). A large population of poor dwells in the big metropolitan inner-cities across the world. For example, Chicago South side has got many inner-cities inhabited by a large number of have-nots. The crime rate in poor inner-cities is high. There are many contributing factors to the crime rate. First of all, many living in the inner-cities have low or very unstable income. Many of them are fighting unemployment (Emily, 2013). Furthermore, poor people are unable to afford housing inside the city or the rich neighborhoods because of the high price and rents of the houses. They feel forced to continue staying in inner-cities due to this reason (Glaeser, Matthew and Jordan, 2008). The LIHTC or Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, targeted at financing the development of affordable rental housing for low-income households, by the federal government also adds to the concentration of poverty, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods (Katz and Turner, 2008). The subsidized housing development in areas, which are already poor, not only encourages the low-income residents to continue staying, but also attracts other poor and economically disadvantaged people from other areas to these neighborhoods. This leads to a concentration of poverty in these neighborhoods, and resultantly, the scope for educational opportunities and employment also goes down (Freedmana and Owens, 2010).
Driven by poverty, many people commit their first crimes in order to earn some quick money to deal with their financial hardships. However, soon those people turn into multiple offenders. Furthermore, the poor neighborhoods being more crime prone, adolescents growing up in the inner-cities get influenced by either seeing people on the streets committing crimes or seeing their own family members committing small or big crimes. This early exposure to crime engenders a criminal tendency among children and adolescents who begin to view the commitment of crimes as normative behavior (Emily, 2013).
In USA, urban crime is a growing problem especially in areas with high poverty levels. Harlem, for example, is a large neighborhood in the New York City with staggering crime rates. Known as the worst area in terms of poverty and crime, Harlem has crime rate of 16 per thousand people. According to the figures cited by the New York Police Department, the crime rate in Harlem has escalated by 17% over the past year (Bellafante, 2013). Especially, there has been a significant increase in the number of robberies, rapes and felony assaults. Just like other poor neighborhoods across the country, Harlem too is plagued by a lot of socio-economic problems including unemployment, population density, age distribution and minority population (Bellafante, 2013). The combined effects of all these socio-economic problems influence both crime and poverty. The relationship between crime and poverty is significant because if the underlying factors affecting the duo can be known, then proper measures can be taken to reduce the level of poverty which may help in the reduction of crimes.
Literature Review and Synthesis
The literature review below will analyze the research question previously stated as regards the relationship between exposure to crime and poverty in triggering criminal tendencies in adolescent men.
Many research studies show that children dwelling in poverty are more likely to commit crimes. The research result of a study conducted by the Cambridge University showed that children from poor families are two and a half times more likely to commit violent crimes as adults than children from rich families (FCO, 2013). A Journal of the American Medical Association article emphasizes on the relationship between poverty and adolescent crime. In an 8 years long study, researchers examined the psychological problems of children, aged between 9 and 15, all of whom hail from Cherokee families in Eastern North Carolina (FCO, 2013). Four years into the study, when a casino opened up in the area these families lived in, their level of income increased as they were the first in line to get jobs in the casino. Within two years, one third of the Cherokee families moved above the poverty line, and it was found that children in those families showed a 40% decrease in behavioral problems that are linked to youth crimes (FCO, 2013). Thus, this study clearly indicates how with the reduction of poverty, the crime-prone behavior in adolescents and young children decreases.
David Bjerk in his research study shows that a relationship exists between youth participation in serious crime, such as murder, stealing with a weapon or selling drugs, and household income (2006). Adolescents growing up in the bottom of income distribution have more propensities towards the commitment of serious crimes than juveniles growing in middle income households (Bjerk, 2006). Glaeser (2008) also states in his research report that adolescents growing up in an area, with the concentration of poor people and not well-connected with other parts of the city, are more vulnerable to serious crimes.
Exposure to Crime
Research shows that the high rate of exposure to crimes leads adolescents to criminal activities. Several studies conducted across major U.S cities showed that 40% adolescents living in inner-city poor neighborhoods are exposed to violent crimes like shooting and murder (Stein, Jaycox, Kataoka, Rhodes, & Vestal, 2003). The Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reported in its article that 75% adolescents living in inner-city neighborhoods heard gun shots, 60% witnessed drug deals, 18% saw dead body lying outside and 10% witnessed stabbing or shooting at home (Fernandez, 2011). The study conducted by Gardner and Brooks-Gunn (2009) suggests that early exposure to violence affects the psychology of adolescents badly, triggering a criminal tendency in them.
Damm and Dustmann (2013) in their research have found strong evidence between adolescent men growing up in disturbed neighborhoods and convicted criminal activity later in their life. Their research found out that one standard deviation increase in youth criminals living in a neighborhood increases the probability for conviction among males aged between 15 and 21 years by 5% to 9% (Damm and Dustmann, 2013). Ingoldsby and Shaw (2002) found out in their research that an increase in the number of young criminals living in the inner-city neighborhoods increases the probability of criminal behavior among adolescent men. Peer influence also inspires criminal tendency among adolescent men. Kremer and Levy (2008) showed that a drunken roommate has a sizeable effect on an adolescent’s academic performance. Carrell and Hoekstra (2010) in their study on a group of children found out that those from a disturbed family have an increased chance of misbehavior and criminal activity.
Poverty and exposure to crime are synonymous with each other in many poor neighborhoods. Starting from inner-cities of Chicago to New York, every poor neighborhood is exposed to high crime rates than rich neighborhoods. Children and adolescents growing up in poverty-ridden neighborhoods with high crime rates have higher chances of committing crimes than those growing up in places with less exposure to crime. Continuous exposure to crime not only influences the adolescent males to join criminal activity but also contributes to various psychological disorders like depression, aggression and suicidal tendency (Glaeser, Matthew and Jordan, 2008).
Based on the literatures discussed above, it can be concluded that definitely a relationship exists between poverty and crime. The existing literature is a great depiction of all the causes and factors associated with poverty and criminal behavior. Among the studies used during this review, very few tried to establish a direct relationship between poverty and criminal behavior. Most of the studies related to the relationship between poverty and crime were established as an extrapolation of the findings. Furthermore, the literatures did not provide any solution to the problem as how to reduce poverty to decrease the crime rates in poor neighborhoods. The next step should be to find studies that despite establishing relationship between crime and poverty highlight on the possible solutions and their efficacies.
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