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Community Takes Commitment (Part 2)

This is the second in a three-part series of Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions. Microsoft’s Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shares a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the potential impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.

On the third visual of the Detroit Crime statistics report (displayed below), I conducted an analysis of the cities Detroit, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, and Washington DC; all are cities that have populations between 600,000 – 700,000.  The goal was to gain an understanding about how economic factors can influence crime rate. The year 2014 was used because it is the most up-to-date crime data set on the FBI’s crime statistics website pertaining to the different cities mentioned above. Also, this dataset only includes major crime fields as opposed to the dataset used in the first part of the series, which included all reported crimes in Detroit (excluding miscellaneous and sexual crimes). Comparing the crime rates and economies of cities with similar populations gives the most accurate analysis of how these two factors may correlate.

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Figures 3.1 and 3.2 (Top-Left/Top-Right) compare major crime totals of Detroit, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, and Washington DC. Detroit led in 6 out of 7 major crime categories including: aggravated assault (9,191), burglary (9,177), motor vehicle theft (10,083), robbery (3,570), murder/non-negligent manslaughter (298), and rape (557). The bottom three graphs depict the reason why I believe crime may be perpetrated more in Detroit compared to the other cities: fractured economy; an economy that remained overly dependent on its established workforce infrastructure instead of focusing on future economic and workforce development, causing a high demand in newer fields of employment as the market changed, but a low supply of applicable workers to fill the positions. The lack of future-focused economic and workforce development leads to shrinkage of applicable jobs as the established economy diminishes, making it increasingly difficult for people to find employment, which subsequently lodges more individuals into impoverished living due to lack of applicable employment.

Figure 3.3 (Bottom-Left) shows the median household income of the five cities. Detroit had the lowest median household income at roughly $26,000 and Washington DC had the highest at roughly $72,000. Figure 3.4 (Bottom-Middle) shows a scatter plot comparing the segments of the population living in poverty (by percentage) in each city. With the 2nd largest population at an estimated 669,071, Detroit’s poverty rate was 18 percentage points higher compared to the next similar sized city (over 100,000 more citizens living in poverty). Figure 3.5 (Bottom-Right) displays the percentage of people living in poverty in each city, with Detroit having the highest rate at 39.3%. The data shows that fractured economies could have a major influence on the rate of crime.

The fractured, unbalanced economy, in my opinion, is the biggest reason why crime is so prevalent in Detroit. “Once the capital of the U.S. auto industry, Detroit has been crippled by the closing of factories, falling home prices, the exodus of tens of thousands of residents, rampant violent crime and massive poverty” (Ghosh). Graduating high school and going to work for one of the big three (GM, Chrysler, Ford) was once the norm for many in Detroit. Working in the factories allowed many Detroiters to become homeowners, earn great wages, and become affluent middle class citizens.

The job market in Detroit took a steep shift January 2007 after over 50 years of consistent decline with the beginning of the Great Recession. With the closing of factories and other local businesses came a rise in unemployment. In 2007, the unemployment percentage (for workers 16 and up) in Detroit was 21.6% (US Census Bureau). By 2014, the unemployment rate in Detroit grew to 27.1% (US Census Bureau). With the rise in unemployment came the rise in poverty with 32.5% living in poverty in 2007 to 39.3% living in poverty in 2014 (US Census Bureau). The Great Recession left many Detroiters unemployed and without the necessary skills to apply for employment in other fields. With lack of income and difficulty finding employment, many Detroiters were left and still remain in a state of financial insufficiency. Do to this state of financial desolation, some citizens turned to crime as a method of survival to escape impoverished living.

When crime is seen as the way of escaping the harsh reality of impoverished living, the social, economic, and psychological advancement of a community is severely crippled.  First and foremost, higher crime rates lead to higher incarceration rates. On the East Side of Detroit alone, “1 out 22 adults are under some form of correctional control, amounting to an annual cost of over 45 million” (Thompson). Once incarcerated, prisoners are not set up for rehabilitation. Rather, they are cultured to depend on the system even upon their release from correctional institutions. Chances at finding employment are stifled simply because a criminal record renders a candidate as “dangerous” and “unemployable”, especially if the potential candidate is African American (Thompson). With limited options to earn income, many go back to a life of crime for survival, eventually leading them back to incarceration i.e. recidivism. Some even commit crimes purposely because they would rather be in prison where they at least have food/shelter rather than be on the streets homeless and starving. This vicious cycle repeats itself in broken, impoverished communities throughout the United States, leaving individuals hopeless, heart-broken, and desperate for survival.

From viewing the crime and economic statistics from Detroit, Denver, Seattle, El Paso, and Washington DC, there appears to be a strong indication that a fractured economy leads to greater crime. At $25,769, Detroit had the lowest median household income of the five cities, which was $15,452 less the 2nd lowest city El Paso ($41,221). Detroit also had 262,767 citizens (2/5) living in poverty, which was approximately 115,200 than the next closest city, El Paso, which had one-fifth of its citizens living in poverty. The economic woes create an environment where crime can flourish. Detroit had 5,187 more aggravated assaults, 2,078 more burglaries, 4,569 more vehicle thefts, 339 more robberies, 193 more murders, and 87 more rapes then the then 2nd closest city. Fractured economies create destitute environments for citizens, especially in urban neighborhoods with lack of economic development, which eventually leads to communal destruction.

Stayed tuned for the third and concluding part of the series, where I will present my potential solution to the economic problems going on in Detroit, specifically in urban communities, which could lead to a stronger economy and lower rates of crime.