I’ve been wanting to write a brief post on this subject since I read this article, needling Chicago and its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, for Chicago’s very high murder rate:
Chicago is Americaâ€™s third-largest city, and is one of its three largest convention cities. It has the nationâ€™s second busiest airport. It has highly rated cultural offerings: the Chicago Symphony, a vibrant local theater industry, great museums. But in one area Chicago has clearly staked its claim to number one.
In 2012, Chicago recorded 505 murders. That may not sound all that bad, since in some years in the past two decades the city had over 900 murders (1991, 1992, and 1994). But it looks like a terribly high number when compared to New York (which recorded 414 murders in 2012) or any of the other ten largest cities in America, because Chicago is not only the murder capital of America in terms of experiencing the most murders. It also has, by far, the highest murder rate among Americaâ€™s ten largest cities.
New York has a population more than three times as large as Chicagoâ€™s population: 8.175 million according to the 2010 Census, versus 2.696 million for Chicago. In New York, the number of murders in 2012 equates to 1 in every 19,747 residents. In Chicago, the rate is 1 murder for every 5,338 residents. If 2011 population data were used, the comparison would be even starker, since New Yorkâ€™s population was estimated to have grown by 74,000 from 2010 to 2011, while Chicagoâ€™s grew only 11,000 in that period.
If there is one number to think about, it is this: Chicago is 3.7 times more dangerous than New York when it comes to murder, which is obviously the most serious crime with which mayors and their police forces need to be concerned.
Rather than dwelling on the manifest inadequacies of the article including its dismissive tone, let’s zero in on the key question: why is Chicago’s murder rate so high? Why is Chicago’s murder rate higher than New York’s?
Both Chicago and New York have stringent gun laws so that can’t be the problem.
I think I can explain some but not all of the difference. Chicago is blacker than New York and Cook County is less equal than New York County (all of the really rich people live outside the county). According to the Census Bureau, New York African American population is about 25% while Chicago’s African American population is around 33%. The homicide rate plus income inequality makes or a noxious mix. Where it’s particularly telling is in Los Angeles County. It has a lower murder rate than Chicago with even worse income inequality but it’s only 10% black.
Despite my raising the issue of race, my claim isn’t a racial one. The black rural homicide rate is roughly equal to the white rural homicide rate. It’s the black urban homicide rate that’s dramatically higher. My speculation is that a large, segregated black population plus urban setting plus income inequality equals high homicide rate.
It might be claimed that the War on Drugs is a critical component, too. For me to accept that I’d need to see a sharply rising homicide rate among urban African Americans after 1970 and I haven’t been able to establish it.
I’m open to other explanations. Why is Chicago’s homicide rate so high?