Chicago Black Lives Matter protest
In a tweet posted last month, President Donald Trump offered to “send in the Feds” to address violence in Chicago. If the president follows through, he should be sure to also send jobs, college education, income and investment.
All four are sorely needed in the areas of Chicago with the highest homicide rates, hardly a surprise to many. However, a Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of homicides and several quality of life indicators suggests that there is a compounding effect to poverty, joblessness, low levels of education and disinvestment. With the addition of each characteristic, homicide rates climb higher and higher.
In 2016, Chicago census tracts possessing all four of those characteristics had a homicide rate of 87 per 100,000 residents—nearly 50 percent higher than the rate recorded by St. Louis, the city with the nation’s highest murder rate in 2016. In addition, that rate is nearly nine times higher than the rate for census tracts possessing none of those factors, according to MPC’s examination.
Using data from the city’s online data portal, MPC mapped the locations of all Chicago homicides recorded for 2016 to determine the number of homicides that year for each of the city’s more than 800 census tracts. MPC then paired census tract data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey for rates of unemployment, individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree, poverty, and households earning at least $100,000 annually.
To tease out the compounding impact of these factors, MPC assigned a flag to census tracts for low rates of bachelor’s degrees and six-figure households (if their rates were less than half the citywide mark). MPC also assigned a flag to census tracts for high rates of poverty and unemployment (if their rates were more than 50 percent higher than the citywide mark). Specifically, MPC assigned flags to census tracts for each of the following conditions based on data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey:
- If fewer than 17.75 percent of individuals 25 years and older held at least a bachelor’s degree. The citywide mark is 35.5 percent.
- If fewer than 11.2 percent of households earned at least $100,000 annually. The citywide mark is 22.4 percent.
- If more than 33.3 percent of individuals lived below the federal poverty line. The citywide mark is 22.2 percent.
- If more than 18 percent of individuals in the civilian labor force were unemployed. The citywide unemployment rate is 12 percent.
A census tract would have no flags, if none of the above conditions were true, or as many as four flags, if all of the above conditions were true. In all, 366 census tracts received no flags, while 435 received at least one flag.
Homicide rates for the census tracts spiked dramatically with each additional flag.
The map below shows that census tracts with three or four flags are concentrated on the city's south and west sides, where most of the city's homicides occur. Conversely, the areas with no flags or just one flag are found on the city's north, northwest and far southwest sides--typically more economically stable areas where fewer homicides occur.
However, several census tracts on the south and west sides also have no flags or just one flag. They include sections of Calumet Heights, Chatham, Hyde Park and other communities. Most of these census tracts have maintained relatively low homicide rates even though they're in close proximity to census tracts with three or four flags and elevated homicide rates.
In his immediate response to President Trump’s comments last month, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’d welcome any federal assistance. In particular, the mayor mentioned help with stopping the flow of guns into Illinois and stepping up the prosecution of individuals who violate gun laws. More recently, the mayor has broadened his wish list.
Last week, after President Trump compared parts of Chicago to embattled areas overseas, Emanuel told reporters that he has specifically asked federal officials for more assistance from federal law-enforcement agencies like the FBI, DEA and ATF; help improving police technology; resources to provide more jobs for youth and expand after-school and mentoring programs; and greater investments near transit, specifically the Green Line, to provide greater economic opportunities.
Certainly those would appear to be positive steps, but help and resources may need to extend beyond law enforcement, youth jobs and after-school programs. The group most in need of assistance may be the 18-to-34 age bracket, the group most likely to commit acts of violence and to be victimized by violence. They are also the most likely adults in Chicago’s most violent communities to be out of work, lack a college diploma and to live in poverty.
For instance, collectively, the unemployment rate was about 29 percent in census tracts to which MPC assigned four flags in its analysis (due to low levels of bachelor’s degree attainment, low levels of high-earning households along with high rates of poverty and high unemployment), tracts with the highest rates of homicide in 2016. But among 18-to-34-year-olds in those tracts, the collective unemployment rate was 39 percent, according to MPC’s analysis.
For decades, poverty, unemployment, disinvestment, and poor education have been as much a part of those communities as violence. As MPC’s analysis suggests, any assistance from the feds, or anyone else for that matter, may need to address those deficiencies in order to significantly stem the violence.