Editorial: The indisputable link between violent crime and poverty
(Third in an editorial series)
There are those among us who are old enough to remember President Lyndon Johnson declaring a War on Poverty in 1964.
It was an ambitious initiative and one that raised hopes and expectations.
"Our aim," Johnson said in his State of the Union message that year, "is not only to relieve the system of poverty, but to cure it, and above all, to prevent it."
Fifty-seven years later, there continues to be much debate, largely ideological, about the level of success that war had. There is little debate it ushered in the welfare state, for good or ill.
The numbers would seem to suggest it succeeded in helping to relieve some of the poverty in America. At the time, the official poverty rate in the United States was 19%. The latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates put it at 10.5%.
Those numbers are subject to debate, of course. Different agencies quote different figures. And they're all based on how you define poverty.
Currently, the official definition in Illinois is $26,246 or less for a family of four. Or if that's not easy enough to relate to, $16,910 for a two-person household.
Can you imagine living at that income level? There's no question it would count as being poor. The question is how much more you would need to make in order to really escape poverty.
Compared to 19%, the 10.5% figure looks like significant improvement. But remember, that still means more than one out of 10 Americans live in poverty, the official version, and many more try to make ends meet just beyond that line.
In Chicago, 20.6% of the population lives in poverty, according to welfareinfo.org. That's one out of five, more than half a million people. The percentage is even higher in disadvantaged communities. And almost one in three public school students comes from an impoverished home.
Beyond just our altruistic concern for others, we must focus on reducing and ending poverty if we truly want to do something to curb violent crime. It must be a top priority. We all have a stake in it.
Violent crime is most often born out of despair, poverty and hopelessness. The links are indisputable.
Studies indicate poverty increases stress, mental illness, drug use, the lure of street gangs. It limits feelings of self-worth. The impact on academic achievement is high. The distractions economic uncertainty impose on parents are significant.
All of these things are factors that not only undermine the health of the community but contribute also to violent crime.
The war on poverty is not easily won, but it must continue -- for the good not just of the poor, but for the good of us all.