In a country that has not resolved its racial issues, and in which migration to the cities of immigrants and African Americans to compete for jobs and inadequate housing has risen and fallen, these events have correlated with America’s murder rates that have shifted dramatically over the decades.
The vast majority of murders have been committed by minorities of ages 18-24 in the poorest neighborhoods of larger cities. Homicide rates amongst this group approach 25 per 100,000 population. National homicide rates recently have dropped substantially from their highs of 10.2 to now 4.8 per 100,000.
Prior to the Civil War, beginning in the 1840s, America received a swell of immigrants due to the potato famine in Europe. After the Civil War, America began its Westward Railroad expansion. Railroads incentives to populate the lands around the rails and America’s Homesteading Act created the impetus for a peak in immigration to levels previously unseen at 327,000 per year. 86% came from northern Europe. Homicide rates varied across the country but were relatively small, at 0.3 to 0.8 per 100,000.
After a lull during the Long Depression, immigration increased again to fill the working ranks of the industrial era. In 1881, immigration rose to 525,000. After another lull for the 1893 depression, in the peak industrial era years prior to WW1, immigration swelled again to 891,000 per year. During the rise of the industrial era, 69% of immigrants came from central and southern Europe. After 1900 up until WWI, homicides nationally rose precipitously from 1 to 6 per 100,000. A majority of immigrants during this period were single young men seeking temporary employment.
During WWI, immigration then dropped to 276,000 right at a time when more manufacturing workers were needed for the war effort, creating the major draw for African Americans to venture north in what was called the Great Migration. During the war, the murder rate dropped to 4 per 100,000 as 800,000 African Americans migrated to northern cities to support the war effort, but then spiked to 7 per 100,000 as the troops came home.
In the 1920s, immigration rose to 412,000 a year. During the 1920s another 800 African Americans migrated north and prohibition was enacted. As labor wages dropped due to increased competition for jobs in the inner cities, and crimes associated with prohibition soared, the homicide rate climbed steadily to a national record of 9.7 per 100,000 not to be topped until the 1970s.
Immigration plummeted during the worldwide depression to only 50,000 per year and net migration halted. During the depression, the national murder rate dropped to 6 per 100,000.
As the young people left to fight WWII, the homicide rate in America dropped to 5 per 100,000 but then increased immediately after the war to 6.4 per 100,000.
After WWII, immigration steadily grew from 252,000 in 1947 to 950,000 in 1990. From WW1 through 1960, 46% came from the western hemisphere. After 1960, immigration shifted toward Asian countries. From a near term peak of 6.4 per 100,000, the murder rate dropped to a low of 4.5 in 1955 and climbed back slowly to 5 per 100,000 by 1965. Then it accelerated to 10.2 through the 1970s as many of our cities declined, and drug use increased.
During the recession of 1981, the homicide rate fell to 7.9 but then rose again to a peak of 9.8 per 100,000 by 1991. From the mid 1980s until the present, illegal alien population increased from 2.5 million to over 22 million by some estimates.
From that high, homicide rates have steadily fallen to lows not seen since the 1950s of 4.8 per 100,000. During this period, 816,000 illegal aliens that had committed criminal acts were removed from the United States. In addition, northern cities saw a reverse migration of African Americans of 3 million back to southern states. Also, the prison population swelled from 600,000 to 1.6 million with increased prison terms and a war on drugs.
While migration, immigration, and incarceration seem to correlate with murder rates, they do not explain what the causes are of these shifts. Dramatic shifts from 0.3 to 10.2 and back to 4.8 murders per 100,000 have occurred in the course of a century. Murder rates in our inner cities have been a significant factor of their demise. Understanding what causes murder rates to have risen and fallen could be a significant key in determining a system solution.
The “experts” are in disagreement as to the cause of the downward trend in murders suggesting the following as possible reasons:
1. Dropped lead from gasoline which reduced lead poisoning that causes aggressive behavior
2. Abortion of 50 million from potentially dysfunctional mothers eliminated criminal element
3. More criminals in prison and longer jail sentences for violent offenders
4. Baby boomers are getting older
5. Violent video games release aggression
6. More cops on the beat
7. Targeted stop and frisks
8. Stand your ground laws have frightened would be assailants
9. Increased poverty reduced mobility
10. Shifting drug use patterns from those associated with higher crime rates to prescription drug abuse
11. Increased youth social programs in the cities
12. Increased social safety nets
13. More people out of work and in their homes
14. Waning crack epidemic
15. Increased gun ownership
16. Better life saving techniques in hospitals
17. More investment in inner cities
18. Gun control laws enacted
19. Gun control laws are repealed
20. Fusion centers integrate law efforts
21. The Fed has curbed inflation
22. Cell phones put more witnesses on the scene
24. Wealth moved away from criminals
25. 18-24 age group decreased 20% in past two decades
Each “expert” has listed on or more of the reasons above, yet many of the experts contradict each other. Some, for instance, might hang their hat solely on better policing and give their reasoning. Others will state it has nothing to with policing or several other reasons but will suggest their ironclad reasons for the decline. Some provide statistical correlations to prove their point and others provide countering data. Interestingly, as a side note, very few will glaringly suggest anything about gun control laws.
The analyses remind me of the 2011 film starring Jonah Hill called Moneyball about how a young economics graduate, suddenly turned scout, applied statistical analysis to the sport of baseball and changed the game. He proved that a systems approach was better than all the scouting experts in the game who had their own subjective views and approaches.
Nonetheless, even though violent crime rates have dramatically reduced, they are still significantly higher than the base rates existing prior to the 20th century. And violent crime rates in inner cities are much higher than national averages, even if they too are also dropping precipitously. Since crime is a prime reason for flight and blight, understanding why it is so much higher in the inner city and understanding what push and pull strategies have been effective thus far might lead us to advance other strategies that could be successful if applied in conjunction. Yet, what might appear logical in isolation might have no basis in application.
For instance, the average street dope dealer makes less than minimum wage in the business and yet subjects himself to great dangers. Providing realistic hope over generations for real employment in productive jobs making $12 per hour might seem a logical solution in isolation. Yet, studies have suggested that merely adding jobs that pay more than drug pushing will not significantly alter a drug pushers behavior or crime even if they take the job. They simply alter their retail hours to supplement legitimate work.
The solution has to be systemwide to be effective. It might entail not only a rebalance of work opportunities, but of education, law enforcement, the drug war, social programs, financial access, city planning, and other equally valid components to reverse the trends of our cities.