Data Points: Are crime and population loss connected in Chicago? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Data Points: Are crime and population loss connected in Chicago?

Flickr user Alan Cleaver (cc)

Chicago continues to grapple with crime and population loss. We wanted to see if there's a correlation between the two.

Since 2000, Chicago has become increasingly known for two phenomena: population loss and violence.

The city’s population has dipped by nearly 200,000 people since 2000; only Detroit has lost more people during that span. In 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the city’s population declined by nearly 3,000 people. That year, Chicago also witnessed a 16 percent increase in homicides, according to an analysis of homicide data posted on the city’s data portal. And in 2016, Chicago has already surpassed its 2015 total, recording more homicides than New York City and Los Angeles combined. This year will also mark the third consecutive year Chicago has seen an increase in homicides, according to our analysis, something that hasn’t happened since the early 1990s.

While studying the intersection between segregation and regional growth through MPC’s Cost of Segregation study, we’ve become interested in whether there’s a relationship between homicides and population loss. To explore whether homicides and population loss are linked in Chicago, we produced the map below. Population loss from 2000 to 2010 (by census tract) is indicated by progressively darker shades of gray. Homicides since 2001 are overlaid as a heat map, with the yellow areas having the highest density of homicides.

The map doesn't offer conclusive evidence that homicides lead to population loss or vice versa. We’re exploring the topic and pointing out the trends we see and those that others have found.

For John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, the trend is clear: “The more violent a place is, the less attractive it is for residents who live there, the more they want to leave.”

Some have noted the population declines witnessed in the nation’s so-called “murder capitals” during the past 30 years. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, only six U.S. cities have held the position of having the highest number of murders per 100,000 residents between 1985 and 2012. Between these six cities—Detroit; Washington, D.C.; New Orleans; Richmond; Birmingham; and Flint—is a noteworthy similarity: population change. As CityLab points out, four of these six cities were undergoing severe depopulation.

The only city among the six with substantial population growth was Washington, D.C., which also happened to be the only city with a murder rate that has dropped significantly in recent years. According to CityLab, “In Washington, and to a lesser extent, in Richmond, the increase in population has corresponded roughly with a decrease in crime.”

Furthering the idea that there is a relationship between crime and population change, research published in the Review of Economics and Statistics reported that “each additional reported crime is associated with a roughly one-person decline in city population.” The article, titled “Crime, Urban Flight, and the Consequences for Cities,” also found that “almost all of the crime-related population decline is attributable to increased outmigration rather than a decrease in arrivals.” While the City of Chicago is included in this research as a major urban area, data about the specific relationship between increasing crime and decreasing population in the city is inconclusive due to the aggregate nature of the analysis.

So it’s not quite clear from the maps whether homicides influence population change and, if so, how quickly. Still, it could be vital to the future of some Chicago communities to learn more about any relationship between the two phenomena as city and community leaders continue to grapple with ways to stop the violence while also rebuilding these communities to attract investment and to improve the quality of life for residents.

This year’s dramatic surge in homicides and shootings underscores the need to understand and resolve the underlying issues of the depopulation and violent crime. The city is on pace to record more than 700 homicides in 2016, which would result in its highest homicide total and homicide rate in nearly two decades. If homicides indeed drive or at a minimum influence depopulation and disinvestment, many struggling communities on the city’s South and West sides could be in store for many bleak years ahead.

We’ll continue to examine the issue in an upcoming installment by looking at population change and homicides in Chicago during the 1990s, considered to be the most violent decade in the city’s history.


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