Fascinating article from the Atlantic that documents the rise of crime in smaller cities and suburbs, even as crime has declined in large cities like NY and Chicago. Cities like Memphis, Fayetteville, and Orlando are becoming the highest in crimes per capita. The authors relay studies that attribute these spikes to the changing living conditions of the poor through the Section 8 housing program. The program was conceived at first as a way to place long-term welfare cases in more middle class environments in the hope that their middle class neighbors’ habits would rub off. While in some cases that happened, in many others the new residents simply brought their ghetto habits with them, and that includes a much higher rate of crime.
Instead of the Robert Taylor Homes, we instead have working class apartment complex dotted around the periphery of cities that change from liveable (if drab) to violent and ghetto overnight:
In the most literal sense, the national effort to diffuse poverty has succeeded. Since 1990, the number of Americans living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty—meaning that at least 40 percent of households are below the federal poverty level—has declined by 24percent. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. Recently, the housing expert George Galster, of Wayne State University, analyzed the shifts in urban poverty and published his results in a paper called “A Cautionary Tale.” While fewer Americans live in high-poverty neighborhoods, increasing numbers now live in places with “moderate” poverty rates, meaning rates of 20 to 40 percent. This pattern is not necessarily better, either for poor people trying to break away from bad neighborhoods or for cities, Galster explains. His paper compares two scenarios: a city split into high-poverty and low-poverty areas, and a city dominated by median-poverty ones. The latter arrangement is likely to produce more bad neighborhoods and more total crime, he concludes, based on a computer model of how social dysfunction spreads.
Studies show that recipients of Section8 vouchers have tended to choose moderately poor neighborhoods that were already on the decline, not low-poverty neighborhoods. One recent study publicized by HUD warned that policy makers should lower their expectations, because voucher recipients seemed not to be spreading out, as they had hoped, but clustering together. Galster theorizes that every neighborhood has its tipping point—a threshold well below a 40 percent poverty rate—beyond which crime explodes and other severe social problems set in. Pushing a greater number of neighborhoods past that tipping point is likely to produce more total crime. In 2003, the Brookings Institution published a list of the 15 cities where the number of high-poverty neighborhoods had declined the most. In recent years, most of those cities have also shown up as among the most violent in the U.S., according to FBI data.
Getting rid of the concentrated epicenters of dysfunction that were traditional housing projects made a lot of sense. They were depressing, violent, and poorly maintained places. But so long as public assistance does not involve greater monitoring and control of the government’s wards, these people and their kids will continue to create problems for themselves and their neighobors.
I am not opposed in principal to local and state governments helping the poor, assisting them with getting back on their feet, and making sure their kids are housed, clothed, and fed. For a lot of reasons, not least deficiencies in IQ and upbringing, some people just can’t easily make it or come upon hard times. But if one can’t make it on her own with a job and the help of family and friends, limitless freedom is not beneficial. A semi-institutionalized state, akin to the old Poor House, should be considered. Some people need more control and supervision to survive and thrive, even if they do not belong in prison or loony bin. The old warehousing solution was a disaster, as is the Section 8 program. Instead of concentrated inner-city ghettos, we’re turning entire cities into semi-ghettos, where random crime now strikes people that could once avoid it by moving out to the ‘burbs, places where picket fences and manicured lawns now conceal the threat of the same violent, fatherless young men who used to live in the projects.