Monday, April 28, 2008

A tale of two counties

This Spring’s escalating gang violence in Chicago is now making national news. The most frequently cited root causes are, of course, poverty and guns. But while those issues are undeniably part of the problem, they must be put into context.

Consider: based on 2002 figures provided by the Heartland Alliance, both Cook and Gallatin Counties in Illinois have similar poverty rates (14.5% and 15.8%, respectively). They also have identical unemployment rates of 6.4%. They even have similar teen birth rates (10.9% and 9.7%). Yet while only 83.7% of Cook County high school students graduate, a full 100% of their Gallatin County peers get their diploma. And while the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority reports that Cook County has 16-20 murders per 100k residents, Gallatin comes in at 0.

While you think about those statistics, I want you to remember that handguns are completely banned in the city that accounts for over half of Cook County’s population, but they are legally available to any FOID card bearing citizen of Gallatin County.

Now, am I saying that getting guns out of the hands of Chicago gang members wouldn’t save lives? No, of course it would. Am I saying that there would be no less violence in Chicago even if a greater majority of residents on the South and West sides had gainful employment? No, of course that would help. All I am saying that is there is more to the puzzle. And all I am suggesting is that Mayor Daley make his next summit a field trip to Gallatin County, and see if he can gain any insight as to why youths there – who face similarly bleak conditions of poverty, joblessness and teen pregnancy – manage to make it to graduation, and resist using the readily available supply of guns to inflict pain and suffering on their communities.


Anonymous,  11:50 AM  

the numbers don't lie. there are some similarities in terms of amount of poverty and unemployment. but what can we extrapolate from those numbers? what are the numbers not telling us?

the joy of statistics is that, while they are based in facts, they can be used in endless ways. one of the statistics the writer doesn't post is the differences in population. for example, how dense is gallatin county? not very. it has a declining population. perhaps the people with violent tendencies are moving up to chicago and bringing their small town anger and guns with them? poverty (while not easier anywhere) has different outcomes in low-density areas with access to greater land and agriculture.

another difference is in the population's makeup. how many people in gallatin county are not white, not many. that number, too is dwindling. how many speak english? most. so the barriers of language and racial discrimination aren't as strong in gallatin county. or maybe they are and that's why non-white people do not choose to live there? at any rate, you can make the numbers say just about anything you like.

ultimately i would imagine that the poverty experience in gallatin is different (not better or easier) than that experienced in the west side of chicago...which is also quite different from that experienced by a poor family in dupage county (yes there is poverty in the burbs).

the numbers don't lie. but they can hide what is causing the poverty. they can hide what maintains the poverty. the numbers can also hide the outcomes of such poverty.

you're opening up an important window - why do similar poverty rates have different outcomes? now push through it. talk about the issues in chicago (and other dense urban areas) that may lead to violence. why do people join gangs? why does anger over respect boil over into violence? what are people missing that they find in these cultures of violence and belonging? it's deeper than just the numbers.

grand old partisan 12:18 PM  

anon - thanks for your comments. To be honest, I don't know why similar poverty rates have different outcomes. Oh sure, I have some theories. But as long as we have a Mayor and a Governor that are only interested in band-aid solutions (gun control) and expanded welfare programs for which they can claim credit, what does it matter? My point is that it is they who must "push through it."

Anonymous,  3:06 PM  

Did you really make this apples to appleseeds comparison? Seriously?

Chicago has 2.1 million people - approximately 12,500 per square mile.

Gallitan county, by comparison, has 6500 people - roughly 20 per square mile.

Can you really ignore that and make this patently absurd comparison?

Anonie!,  3:24 PM  


If density is the problem, then how does Chicago compare to New York City?

anonie!,  3:32 PM  

I just looked it up on wiki. In 2006, Chicago's murder rate was 16.4 (20th), which will obviously be higher this year, and New York City's rate was 7.3 (50th). So much for the density argument!

grand old partisan 3:54 PM  

Anon 3:06 – I’m not sure the suggestion that relative population density is a contributing factor to street violence highlights the alleged “absurdity” of my point, which is that there is more to the issue of street violence than just poverty and access to guns.

But, hey, if you still need an “apples to apples” comparison, consider that the most densely populated city in the US is Union City, NJ. It has a higher poverty rate than Chicago, but a lower crime rate. What’s their secret? I don’t know. But if you want to suggest that Daley & Co. add a stop in the Garden State after Gallatin, fine. I’m all for it.

anon 3:06,  4:38 PM  

To dismiss size and density as a conspicuous factor in the difference in murder statistics between Chicago and Gallitan County simply because Chicago's murder rate is higher than New York's (or Union City's) is a post hoc argument, and more than a bit obtuse.

The top 50 American cities for murder ranking are all medium-to-large cities. The smallest, Mobile, AL, has more than 250,000 people - nearly 40 times as many as Gallitan county.

As to thinking conceal and carry will solve this, consider that St. Louis and Philadelphia, among others, are covered by "shall issue" laws, and they have higher murder rates than Chicago.

Cherry picking stats does not an argument make.

These problems are more complex than simply carry vs no-carry. If it were that simple, I'd be all for it.

But it isn't.

grand old partisan 5:09 PM  

Anon 3:06,

Answer yes or no: The fact that Gallatin and Cook have similar economic statistics yet dissimilar rates of violent crime suggests that poverty, alone, is an oversimplified explaination for violent crime.

If your answer is yes, then – whether your realize or not, or want to admit it or not – you actually agree with my original post (and if that is the case, then your hostile and dismissive response to it is baffling, to say the least).

If your answer is no, then explain. (And, btw, the “apples to appleseeds” argument won’t help you, because all that does is validate my contention that poverty must be considered “in context” when discussed as a possible factor.)

anon 3:06,  5:53 PM  

In fact, both comments I have made have posited that population size and density are major factors in the difference in crime statistics between a place like Chicago and a place like Gallatin County.

Neither of them can even be construed to suggest that I have argued that poverty, alone, explains violent crime.

You've projected upon me an argument I've not even come close to making.

Of course poverty must be considered "in context." The very crux of my argument has been that poverty must be considered in context of population size and density, among other things.

It is within context that one can question comparing a the third most-populous city in the entire nation to the 100th most populous county in the state.

anon 3:06,  6:15 PM  

I'll go on.

You write that youths in Gallatin County "resist using the readily available supply of guns to inflict pain and suffering on their communities."

In effect, making a post hoc argument that because guns are legally and easliy available in Gallatin County, and there is little crime, and guns are difficult to obtain legally and not easily available in Chicago, that, perforce, legally available guns would lessen crime.

The problem with this argument is illustrated by the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, and our neighbor, St. Louis.

Both cities issue permits.

Both cities have higher murder rates than Chicago.

Now, if I were to use your method of argument, I would suggest that the availability of legal handguns has proliferated the higher murder rates.

AKA, the "All cats die. Socrates is dead. Therefore, Socrates was a cat." argument.

But, see, I don't believe it. That would be intellectually dishonest and a logical fallacy, now wouldn't it.

In sum: available guns may not cause crime, but they do not necessarily deter it.

Anonymous,  9:34 PM  

How's this argument?

If population density and size is the trigger for violent behavior (as some are arguing here) then it's an argument against smart growth, new urbanism, etc. and for sprawl and depopulating the cities and scattering everyone around the countryside til every place looks like Gallatin County.

Anonymous,  11:03 AM  

Gallatin County has a population density of ~20persons/sq. mi. when compared to the entire land area. However in reality that is not even an accurate marker. Rural counties being full of land in agriculture production or other non-residential uses reflect a false impression of actual living densities in their municipalities. Shawneetown, the most populous municipality, has a population of 1410 and an area of 1.2 square miles giving us a density of 1175 persons/sq. mi. which is at 1/10th of the density of Chicago as relayed by a previous poster. The murder rate does not reflect accessibility to guns or poverty levels or arguably population densities. Therefore why do our leaders continue to affect those factors when they are not abviously the problem.

Anonymous,  11:29 AM  

original anonymous here...i'd like to throw fuel on the fire. clearly violence, poverty, urbanism, and guns are all extremely complicated issues with no real one cause. that's the joy of humanity, isn't it? we're all walking nutjobs that work on our own individual systems of logic with very little predictability... i'm rambling.

i'd like to consider another issue... segregation. any time you have a region where people are segregated by race and class you're begging for trouble. one of the fun social theories of community development is that housing segregation and redlining maintained economic integration. even if a neighborhood was all one color you had doctors, teachers, store owners mixed in with working (or non-working) poor people. since the end of red-lining there has been a further ghettoization of urban areas. those with money move to wealthier urban areas or to the burbs. this leaves a greater density of poverty in the remaining community. this also leaves children with fewer role models, fewer local stores, and fewer inter-class connections for people to build off of.

since gallatin county is majority white, i'm assuming that there are fewer racial tensions and a greater economic mixing within communities. i may be utterly off though.

as for the guns... well if we make them easier to get, easier to hide, and easier to load, doesn't logic dictate that they'll be easier to use for whatever the individual deems to be the 'right moral cause'?

it just may not be your 'right moral cause'. enough of my ramblings. talk amongst yourselves.

Prof. Goldblatt Ph.D. 1:35 PM  

Before we can control this there has to be REAL opportunity.

Furthermore, when Regan dumbed down our public education system we are now seeing the effects. We now have a second generation of a public school class dumb down by Ronald Regan.

Reagan changed the way children learn "naturally."

Because of Reagan adults have something to teach them. Hence we set standards, prescribe curricula and test to see whether the kids have learned what the grown-ups judge they need to know.

Has it worked?

grand old partisan 9:18 AM  

Anon 3:16 – fair enough, as far as my incorrectly attributing disagreement with my core thesis to your comments.

Now, perhaps you can explain just where, exactly, I made the argument that “legally available guns would lessen crime?” Talk about projecting upon someone an argument they’ve not even come close to making!!

To be fair, I do support conceal carry - but as a defensive, not preventative measure. In other words, I honestly, don’t know (and don’t care) if that would really “lessens crime” - particularly the sort of gang fueled, violent street crime at issue here. But I also don’t think it would increase crime, either, which might - might – be the only reason for depriving law abiding citizens of the right to defend themselves when confronted by violent criminals.

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