The correlation of poverty to crime


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America is experiencing poverty at an increasing rate in terms of the number of children in poverty and the intensity of poverty. There are approximately 15.3 million U.S. Children living in households defined as falling below the poverty line (Duncan, 1998), and they are increasingly concentrated in impoverished and underclass neighborhood (Greenwood, 1995). One-third of all children experience poverty in at least one year of their life and only one in twenty experiences ten or more years of poverty.

Poverty has become a major concern in the United States because of the effects it has on the youth in our society. Many young children are faced with lack of food, inadequate living conditions, and lack of parental guidance. Strains are placed on children living in poverty as young as the age of seven. Children living in poverty generally isolated from mainstream society, don't have access to community organizations, poor schools, low self-esteem, depression, behavioral problems in school, and engage in delinquent activities.

Delinquency among the poor has been studied over the years to see if there is a relationship between delinquency and poverty. Theories have suggested the link between delinquency and poverty is due to unemployment, family disruption, lack of education, marital disruption, female- headed households, teenage pregnancy, isolation of poorer neighborhoods, lack of role models in the communities, less supervised youth programs, and no formal community networks to deter potential criminal (Anderson, 1993; Hannerz, 1968; Liebow, 1967, Rainwater 1970, Sullivan, 1993, Sutles, 1968).

The link between poverty and crime is diverse (Jargowsky and Bane, 1991). The reasons why people who are living in poverty commit criminal acts vary from crime being the only opportunity to achieve a higher level of socioeconomic status to enhance financial ability. People of all class commit crime for different reasons, but it has been proven over the years by different researchers that people living in poverty commit more crime than any other class. This literature will focus on what is known about the poverty and delinquency, the gaps in this field, method used in this field, and current study in this field.

Literature Review

How Poverty is defined and measured?

How poverty is defined and measures has attributed to different results in the study of poverty and crime. Poverty has been defined in several different ways. One definition of poverty is a situation in which a person's income is below 60% of the median income of a country. According to the Census Bureau, poverty is defined an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter.

The official poverty measurement was adopted in the last 1960s and it consisted of a set of thresholds for families of different sizes and composition that are compared to a resource measure to determine a family poverty status. The thresholds represent the cost of a minimum diet multiplied by three to allow for expenditures on other goods and services. This measurement of poverty had several weaknesses according to the National Research Council and the Panel on Poverty and Family. The official measurement did not take into consideration the expenses it takes to hold a job, and it does not reflect the effects of key government policies that alter the disposable income available to families (Citro and Michael, 1995).

Alternatives approaches to measure to poverty thresholds were viewed by in 1995 by the Panel on Poverty and Family in regards to experimental poverty measures. For experimental purposes, poverty was measured by a dollar amount for food, clothing, shelter, and utilities, as well as a small amount for needs such as transportation expenses, expenses to maintain a household, and personal care. The panel developed a threshold designed for a family of four- a mother, a father, and two children. According to the panel, thresholds can be adjusted for the needs of families of different sizes and composition and geographic locations.

Paul Jargowsky, one of the most well known researchers on poverty and crime, adopted only a small fraction of the official measure of poverty recommendations of the Panel of Poverty and Family. During his methodology for his many studies, he measured poverty by calculating a simple poverty score by determining the proportion of high poverty census tracks within a city during his several different studies. He believed that the cut off threshold was 40% of poor residents, and other researchers such as (Wilson, 1996) used 30% threshold to represent poverty.

Data from the Census Bureau has also been used to measure poverty as well. The percentage in poverty is calculated as the percentage of the total population in the census that fall below the Social Security Administration's poverty line. Poverty definitions and measurement differ from researcher to researcher; therefore, results in research will vary depending on what definition and measure of poverty is adopted (Jargowsky and Bane, 1991; Rickets and Sawhill, 1988; Wilson, 1996).

Why People living in Poverty Commit Crime

People living in poverty commit crimes for several different reasons. Survival in the poverty stricken neighborhoods is one of the main reasons for criminal behavior. Often times, many people have to commit crimes such as robbery or burglary as a mean to have financial gain in order to feed themselves and their children or to be able to maintain their household expenses. People also commit crime because it is the norm to take the law into their own hands (Cooney, 1997). High poverty areas do not have the access to the local law enforcement as other areas normally have. Law enforcement is often viewed as not being helpful; therefore, we see many retaliatory crimes committed in these areas. Retaliatory violence in response to "disrespect" becomes a way to achieve status in the absence of other opportunities. People living in such neighborhoods believe that they have to take the law into their own hands because the local authorities have failed to protect them Kurban and Weitzer (2003). The response time to such neighborhoods is much slower compared to neighborhoods in the suburbs, and everyone is viewed as a criminal when they may actually be a victim. Crime in poorer communities is a just a form of self help (Anderson, 1993).

Many people living in poverty do not want to be living in poverty. In order to obtain a higher level of socioeconomic status, crime is seen as the only option (Wilson, 1987). Money that is made by committing crimes such as illegally selling crack cocaine, or another type of drug, or money that was obtain illegally is used to established some type of legal business establishment. Once the legal business is established, there is no longer a need to commit crime and this places the individual into another class. Crime is also committed to have fun or have something to do to occupy an individual's time (Agnew, 1992). Grand Theft Auto is one of those crimes that are committed to just have fun. Many people, especially, adolescents, commit this offense to joyride around the city.

Many youth begin a life of crime because of their parent's ineffective parental practices. Being poor and having children to provide for can lead to emotional distress. Parents are inconsistence with their children, forceful, and extremely harsh and the bond between parent and child is weaken (Sampson and Laub, 1994). When that bond weakens, children are more at risk for deviant behavior. Parents are also not involved with their children's education as other parents in mainstream society. It has been proven that poor performance in school is associated with the onset of delinquency (Maguin and Loeber, 1996). School is often viewed as a place to go to fight and steal from classmates rather than a learning institution. Obtaining an education is not stressed by some parents to their children; therefore; their children never understand the importance of education. School is looked at as a place for fighting, bullying, stealing, and just a place to "hang out". Poor children are not successful in school. They have been found to be deficient in reading and mathematical skills (Beebe, 1993). Rewards from the school environment are limited by the lack of school success, therefore, the risk for delinquency is increase and a life is crime behavior is developed (Mofitt, 1981).

Growing up in an isolated poverty community, children are told they can not achieve high academics because of their living conditions. Many children are forced to withdraw from school because of attendance. Missing school on a daily basis is a norm in high poverty areas because children lack decent or proper clothing for different types of weather, the lack transportation. They may faced interrupted utility services and over crowdedness in the home they may hinder their ability to attend school and learn (Swain, 2006)

Poverty and Delinquency (Isolation)

. Poverty can be classified into three types which are persistent poverty, underclass poverty, and ghetto poverty (Wilson, 1996). Many studies have link poverty to geographic isolation and street crime as crime and violence (Anderson, 1999). High poverty areas are generally clustered together and are isolated from mainstream society. Jargowsky (1996) suggested that the loss of jobs in the poor neighborhoods, and the creation of managerial and professional jobs in the suburbs lead to economic segregation. Isolated neighborhoods are deprived of the basic needs that it needs to prevent problems such as violence and crime. Excellent schools, churches and reinforcements of morals and values that mainstream society lives are absent from the neighborhoods that are segregated (Jargowsky 1996).

Segregation from mainstream society has limited people in high poverty areas to have contact with people in mainstream society. Due to the limited contact, poor people are not given the opportunity to see values and norms that the remaining of society bases their lives. People living in mainstream society base their life around obtaining the American Dream. They believe in college education, marriage, family, career, and home ownership. In poorer communities, these values and beliefs are irrelevant and replaced with norms that are appropriate for their environment (Wilson, 1987). As suggested, the norms for most poor people are some form of criminal behavior.

Poor people tend to only associated themselves with others that are poor. This is mainly because they feel intimated by someone who has higher socioeconomic status, or someone who has a higher education level than themselves. They are most comfortable with someone who is receiving welfare or some form of assistance from the government. Seeing only criminal behavior and not being able to see mainstream society's behavior severely handicaps poor people. Behavior is learned; and if an individual is isolated and only see crime being committed within their communities, they will be more likely to commit crime. For the high poverty stricken areas, criminal behavior is spread throughout the community and thus creates a powerful predictor for delinquency (McDonough, 1992).

Some members of the isolated would like to move to a more their families to a more affluent neighborhood to decrease the chances of their young children engaging in delinquency (Ludwig, 1998). Children will have more opportunities, better education, better job networks, and will be able to achieve the American Dream. Moving from a poor isolated community to a more affluent community can be difficult for some of the residents. Due to the isolation, they are often afraid and believe they are not intelligent enough, and fear they will be rejected by society because of their background.

Poverty and Delinquency (Time and Persistence)

People who are identified as poor do not have the same experience of poverty. The difference in the experience of poverty is based on its persistence and its timing (Franworth, 1994). Poverty early in a child's life and the longer a child lives in poverty are strong indicators of delinquency (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997). Many children are born into poverty and remain in poverty throughout their entire childhood. This type of poverty is known as persistent poverty. African Americans experience poverty longer than other ethnicity groups, and the elevated rate of delinquency among African Americans is contributed to lower socioeconomic status and urbanization (Hawkins, Laub, and Lauritsen, 1998). Recent studies confirm that exits from poverty are higher for household headed by white males and much lower for those headed by black females (Steven, 1994).

A child living in persistent poverty faces a wide range of behavior problems that leads to delinquency. Some of these problems are school related issues such as fighting, humiliation, and anger. Duncan (1994) investigated the impact of persistent poverty on children who were five years old. The study indicated that the effects of short-term poverty are not as large as the effects on persistent poverty (Duncan et, al., 1994; 307). Delinquency is most prevalent in persistent poverty than short-term poverty.

Poverty early in a child's life can be detrimental because it is then when shaping of a child is most important. If poverty is experienced later in a child's life, it can affect school attendance and possible it can be a factor in whether a child graduates from high school or not (Duncan, 1998). School is not a priority for an adolescent living in poverty; but rather, living conditions, survival, negative influences within the community, and any emotional issues that may arise within a child living in poverty.

Previous Researchers Studies and Methods

To determine the link between poverty and crime, determines what type of method is used. Ethnographic research is best used to examine the relationship between poverty and delinquency (Anderson, 1990; Jankowski, 1991; Sullivan, 1989; Williams and Kornblum, 1985). This type of study link other factors such as persistent unemployment, marital disruption, and female-headed household and teenage pregnancy to poverty and delinquency (Anderson, 1993). Ethnographic is best for capturing persistent poverty which is living in poverty for a period of eight years or longer (Duncan and Rogers, 1991). Although the best method, it would take at least a ten year longitudinal study which most researchers don't have the time to dedicate to such study. Individual analysis is the most convincing type of research, but provides the least support between poverty and crime (Jankowski, 1995, Tittle and Meier, 1990). Empirical research has also suggested that persistent poverty leads to crime (Currie, 1985; Hagen and Peterson, 1995; Jencks, 1992; Krivo and Peterson, 1996; Sampson and Wilson, 1995).

Researchers such as Coulton, Chow, Wang and Su (1996), Massey and Denton (1998), and Lee (2000) used at least one of the three measures while looking at poverty segregation in 100 metropolitan areas. The first measure used was the proportion of poor families living in the extreme poverty census track. The second measure was proportion of poor families living that would need to move to a different census track to achieve an equal distribution of poverty throughout the metropolitan area, and the last measure was the probability that poor families would encounter other poor families within their census track. These three measures are distant, but are empirically related (Coultron et al. (1996). To show the poverty by census track, Pittsburg (PA) and Cincinnati (OH) cities with near the same in population (334,563 verses 330,662) was used. Cincinnati had 31.2 % of its poor residents living in the census track in which 40% of the tract residents are poor in contrast to 22.5% in Pittsburg. It was suggested that poor residents living in Cincinnati's poverty ring are more geographically and socially isolated from non-poverty tracks that are resident s of Pittsburgh's high poverty track.

In 2000, 236 cities with a minimum population of 100,000 were used in a research that focused on the relationship between poverty clustering and crimes in the cities. For the purpose of the research, the Uniform Crime Reports and the Census of Population and Housing were the two data sources used. The Census of Population and Housing calculated the percent of residents on poverty in each census tract. This study used two tracks for the research; one track for 30% poor census track and one for contiguous 40% poor census tracks. The study took the median age of city residents because the crime rates are most likely be committed by younger residents (Baller, Messner, Deane, and Howkins, 2001; Cohenand Land, 1987). Other factors that were measured in this study were unemployment, African Americans, and female headed households. This study concluded that social isolation rather than deprivation contributed to the relationship of segregation and crime.

Longitudinal data spanning over 14 years was used to measure the level of exposure to poverty and its timing and used to examine the relationship between poverty and delinquency. The sample population range in ages from 10 -15 years old and a face to face interview were conducted from 1979-1992. This study had an over representation of Hispanic and African- Americans disadvantage youths. The sampling in this study has several limitations. First limitation was the self-reporting of delinquency for the youth, and no one older than the age of 15 could participant in the study. This sample is not a national representation of all children living in poverty between the ages of 10-15. Exposure to poverty was measure by the number of years the youth's family lived in poverty. The family income was measure by each year the family was below the poverty level, thus was the divided by the youth's age to determine the percent the youth spent in poverty in his/her lifetime. The study also examined the impact of poverty at different stages in life (Brooks-Gunn, 1997). Stages in a youth life were measured form birth to 5 years old, from 6 to 10 years old, and from 11 and older. The results of this study indicated that the extent that the level of exposure to poverty is important in the likelihood of delinquency. It also revealed that poverty had more effect on a child in the early years of development (Jarjoura and Triplett, 2002)

Kurbin and Weitzer (2003) studied retaliatory homicides in St. Louis. They found that retaliatory homicides were more prevalent in disadvantage isolated communities. They took narratives from individuals who were involved in homicides and they confessed retaliation was associated with a mistrust of the police. Kurbin and Weizer (2003) concluded that disadvantage isolated communities suffer from policing vacuum and promotes cultural values to settle disputes among themselves. Kurbin and Weizer were not the only researchers that concluded that crime is way to settle disputes. Anderson (1999) and Wilson (1897) argued that poor people who are isolated developed a set of alternative norms in order to survive on the streets. Cooney (1997) also argued that poor people engage in more criminal behavior because the limited access to the law.

To truly capture the relationship between poverty and crime, ethnographic research is the most productive type of study. A field researcher will have the opportunity to capture the lives of people living in poverty for an extended period of time. This type of research will provide the answers to why people living in poverty become delinquent and a researcher will understand the struggles and hardships poor people face. A researcher conducting ethnographic research will be able to explain in his findings the state of mind of someone living in poverty and clearly explain why criminal activity has become a way of life.

Many different researchers have conducted research using different methods, but most of the researchers have concluded that there is a direct link between poverty and crime. It can be concluded from the various studies that people living in poverty commit greater amounts of crime than others not living in poverty. It can be concluded that the limited access to police is one of the reasons greater amounts of crime occur in poor communities. It can also be concluded that isolation plays a major role in criminal behavior among poor people.

Previous study mainly focused on segregation and isolation. Current study has focused on spells and timing of poverty as it related to criminal behavior.

Gaps in the Knowledge on Poverty and Delinquency

One major gap is that there has not been a study to explore the interaction between overall poverty and concentrated poverty, even though there is some indication that poverty may indeed interact with its spatial concentration in predicting crime. An example of this is the research that was conducted by Sampson and his colleagues on neighborhood effects. Their findings were that social behavior is influenced not only by what happens in one's immediate neighborhood, but also by what happens in surrounding areas (Sampson, Raudenbush, 2001). The negative consequences of living in a poor neighborhood and living in non-poor neighborhood can spill over to surrounding communities, implying a possible interaction between poverty and its geographic distribution. The effect of poverty on crime may be higher in neighborhoods where poverty is spatially concentrated because poor residents in such areas are less likely to experience negative influences not only fro their own community but surrounding ones as well. Researchers can believe that poverty on criminal behavior may be somewhat mitigated when it is less spatially concentrated and potentially exacerbated when it is more concentrated.

Another gap in the relationship between poverty and crime is criminological investigations. Nor do criminological researchers draw upon the vast literature that now exists on poverty in America to inform their analyses of delinquency. It is not shown that there are considerable differences among the poor by the level of exposure. Understanding the importance of distinguishing the poor by level of exposure begins with recognition that there is a dual nature of poverty in America (Bane and Ellwood, 1986). The concept of a dual nature to poverty refers to the fact that while there are substantial numbers of people living in persistent, long-term poverty, many people, including children, experience only short-term poverty.

There is a need to pay more attention to the measures of poverty that that is used and to understand just who is captured by the measures. What is missing in most studies of poverty and delinquency is data on more than one year in the life of the subject.

Debate on the Subject

There has been some debate over the relative roles of concentrated disadvantage and segregation in explaining violence (Sampson and Wilson, 1995). Researchers are at odds with whether or not it is isolated African American communities or race related factors that explain higher crime in those communities. Massey and Denton (1993) believe that segregation is more important than race related factors. In previous studies, it was shown that overall poverty and isolated poverty affected whites, but only the overall poverty affected American Americans (Pruitt, 2000). The most difficult part of the debate is the importance of isolated poverty verses the importance of racial segregation is that isolation poverty is related to African American and isolated poverty among whites is rare (Krivo and Peterson, 1996, Kasarda, 1993). Researchers have conducted several studies to try an overcome this debate. Krivo and Peterson (1996) analyzed the relationship between neighborhood disadvantage and index street crime in Columbus, Ohio with some white neighborhoods experiencing disadvantage.


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