Conventional wisdom says that poverty and crime go hand-in-hand. The theory goes that poor people have no option but to commit crimes in order to gain wealth, or survive. Or that the authorities criminalize “undesirable” behavior of the poor and disadvantaged, thus increasing crime rates within marginalized populations. (Think of all the “crimes” of jaywalking used for stopping and frisking young Black men.) Needless to say, the link between crime and poverty is not that simple. It would probably take several blog posts to understand all the nuance around it.
When it comes to Baltimore, we have great information on socioeconomic indicators thanks to the efforts of the Census Bureau and organizations like the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA). So, using data from BNIA and the Open Baltimore data portal, I compared poverty in crime in the Community Statistical Areas (CSAs) within Baltimore.
First, I took the number of homicides in 2016 and geocoded them to know the CSA of each homicide that year. This is how it breaks down by CSA:
|CSA||Number of Homicides in 2016|
|Inner Harbor/Federal Hill||0|
|Greater Roland Park/Poplar Hill||1|
|Harbor East/Little Italy||2|
|Beechfield/Ten Hills/West Hills||2|
|Penn North/Reservoir Hill||4|
|Patterson Park North & East||6|
|Poppleton/The Terraces/Hollins Market||7|
|Greater Charles Village/Barclay||7|
|Howard Park/West Arlington||10|
|Southern Park Heights||12|
|Brooklyn/Curtis Bay/Hawkins Point||13|
This doesn’t tell the whole story. What if Southwest Baltimore just has so many people that the number of homicides is the largest there? We need to account for population. So I used the 2010 Census numbers on Baltimore’s 55 CSAs to come up with the homicide rate per 10,000 residents. Now things change a little bit.
Southwest Baltimore goes from being the highest CSA by absolute count of homicides to the sixth highest CSA by rate of homicides per 10,000 residents. Midway/Coldstream turns into the CSA with the highest rate at 18.7 homicides per 10,000 residents.
|CSA||Number of Homicides in 2016||2010 Population||2016 Homicide Rate|
|Inner Harbor/Federal Hill||0||12,855||0.0|
|Greater Roland Park/Poplar Hill||1||7,377||1.4|
|Beechfield/Ten Hills/West Hills||2||12,264||1.6|
|Harbor East/Little Italy||2||5,407||3.7|
|Patterson Park North & East||6||14,549||4.1|
|Penn North/Reservoir Hill||4||9,668||4.1|
|Greater Charles Village/Barclay||7||16,391||4.3|
|Southern Park Heights||12||13,284||9.0|
|Brooklyn/Curtis Bay/Hawkins Point||13||14,243||9.1|
|Howard Park/West Arlington||10||10,873||9.2|
|Poppleton/The Terraces/Hollins Market||7||5,086||13.8|
So let’s look at poverty. First, I ranked the CSAs in order of poorest to wealthiest and put them on the X-axis of the graph below. Then I took the cumulative percent of homicides for each CSA and put that on the Y-axis. Here’s the graph, and I’ll explain it better below.
As you can see, the poorest 16 CSAs had 50% of all homicides in 2016. The richest 6 CSAs had only 1% of the homicides. The question is, again, what about population? How do we know that poorer CSAs don’t just have more people living within them, so they contribute more to the number of homicides than other neighborhoods.
To answer that question, I ranked the neighborhoods from poorest to richest in the X-axis again, but I plotted their homicide rates. Here’s what I found:
As you can see, the poorer CSAs had higher rates than the richer ones. Although there was plenty of variation on both ends of the spectrum. For example, Greater Roland Park/Poplar Hill (the richest CSA in terms of median household income at $104,481) had a homicide rate of 1.4 homicides per 10,000 residents (from one homicide in a CSA of about 7,000 residents). Morell Park/Violetville (with a median household income of $38,209) had a lower homicide rate than the richest CSA with 1.1 homicides per 10,000 residents (from one homicide in a population of about 9,000 people).
The next question here would be thus: What is similar between these two CSAs that their homicide rate is the same but their median household income is different? Look at Fells Point and Claremont/Armistead. Why does Fells Point (median household income of $77,433) have a higher homicide rate than Claremont/Armistead (median household income of $34,034)?
Obviously, there is something else at play here.
While the poorer neighborhoods have the higher concentration of homicides looking at the gross numbers, doing an adjustment (accounting for) of population yields some very interesting results. So what other indicators in these neighborhoods explain these weird relationships where CSAs with half the median household income of richer ones have a lower rate of homicides? Or vice-versa?
Do we still believe that poverty equals higher crime? And what if we adjusted for race? Would neighborhoods with a higher concentration of Black residents have a higher rate of homicides, as some pundits want us to believe? Would a neighborhood with a higher concentration of White residents be higher if that neighborhood was poor?
More analysis to come.