NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poverty Of Values Causes Crime

November 10, 1995

The Great Society War on Poverty, now 30 years old, was founded on the belief that poverty produces crime; eliminate poverty and you eliminate the roots of crime.

But new evidence suggests that crime exacerbates poverty, rather than the other way around. Crime may be driven by a poverty of values, high levels of illegitimacy and fatherlessness, and social pathologies which grew even as America prospered and the welfare state expanded.

  • It is estimated the war on poverty has cost more than $5.4 trillion in 30 years.
  • Resources poured into the fight have grown more than fivefold in less than 30 years.
  • The federal government aims 77 major means-tested programs at the poor, and hundreds more exist at the state and local level.

Yet over the same 30-year period, the national crime rate has doubled.

  • Crime began to rise in the mid-1960s, and peaked in 1974 with 10.2 homicides per 100,000 -- compared to 4.7 in 1961.
  • In 1993, the homicide rate was 10 per 100,000.
  • Crimes against property have grown 259 percent over the past 30 years, but violent crimes have increased 560 percent.
  • The poor are two to three times more likely to be victims of violent crime than those above the poverty line.
These trends occurred during a period when more and more Americans were moving into the middle class. From 1959 to 1991, the proportion of families living below 125 percent of the poverty line fell from 26.2 percent to 15.3 percent.

Source: Matthew Robinson, "The Real 'Root Causes' of Crime," Investor's Business Daily, November 10, 1995.


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