by Gary Lai
People commit violent crimes in Los Angeles for many reasons. Its mayor, Eric Garcetti, wants the city to hire ex-criminals as a remedy. There is certainly an economic aspect to criminality. Now, there is evidence that the frequency of violent crimes is influenced by the income of the people in a neighbourhood.
The data on median income and the number of incidents of violent crimes per 10,000 in Angeleno neighbourhoods – as compiled by the LA Times in the Mapping LA project – shows three findings. First, there is a negative correlation between the median income of a neighbourhood and the number of incidents of violent crimes in the city.
As a general rule, the higher the median income of a neighbourhood, the fewer incidences of violent crime one would see. For example, Vermont Knolls, which as a median income of $27,730, has 113.6 incidents of violent crimes per 10,000. Rancho Palos Verdes, whose median income is 4.6 times that of Vermont Knolls, has only 4.1 incidents per 10,000.
The data, however, does not explain the direction or more in-depth nature of the relationship. That is, the number of incidents of violent crimes may be lower in a high median income neighbourhood because wealthy people kept criminals at bay by building a strong community, or people in a neighbourhood became richer because they worked harder and earned more because the low incidents of violent crimes. There may also be elements of both, feeding off each other.
According to a simple model linking the two variables – and using the most recent data – a neighbourhood would be predicted to experience no violent crime (8 neighbourhoods in Los Angeles reported no violent crimes, mostly where people make more money) if its media income is $125,455.
17 out of 265 neighbourhoods (that is the top 6.4%) identified by Mapping LA are above this level. Their average violent crime rate is 4.6 incidences per 10,000 (4 neighbourhoods were not included because of missing crime data). Chesterfield Square, which has the highest violent crime rate in Los Angeles and a median income of $37,737, has 175.5 incidences per 10,000.
The model has prescriptive powers. Take Watts for example. Its violent crime rate is 69.2 per 10,000. The model predicts that a small, $5,000 increase in media income in the neighbourhood would lower the crime rate to 52.0%. That is a 24.8% decrease in violent crime rate. Compton, which has the 26th highest violent crime rate in the city, would see less crime if the government can lift the neighbourhood’s median income. For a $5,000 increase, the model predicts a violent crime rate of 34.9% — a 31.6% decrease from 51.1%.
The results show that, if it is true that wealthy people crowd out criminals, the government should consider instituting a program of gentrification in low median income neighbourhoods. 93.6% of the neighbourhood theoretically have room for improvement.
New apartment buildings should be built in poorer neighbourhoods. Multi-purpose property development, mixing shopping malls, office buildings, and residences should be encouraged in neighbourhoods with higher incidences of violent crimes (of course with care taken with the need for law enforcement, social services and health care, etc.). Parks can encourage people with higher incomes to move into a neighbourhood.
The data also supports calls for education programs to train poor Angelenos with the skills needed for higher paying jobs. Life in a higher income bracket would possibly deter them from violent crimes.
Raising the median income of a neighbourhood is not a silver bullet to solving all of Los Angeles’ crimes. Not all neighbourhoods can have the income level of Malibu. Even the wealthiest one have a handful cases of violent crimes each year. But there is a strong case for the gentrification of Los Angeles and education for lower-income residents.
In Hong Kong, where there were 4,945 cases of violent crimes in the first half of this year (a drop from 5,297 cases from the same period last year), the government can learn that there are more economically-inspired ways than putting more police officers on the streets to combat violent criminals.
Gary Lai was the founder and director for ten years of the anti-poverty campaign TKO Poverty.