In the wake of the tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, CO earlier this month, the nation has been engaged in a dialogue about the best ways to prevent violent crime — including passing stricter gun control legislation, requiring more background checks for firearm purchases, and increasing mental illness reporting. However, one writer at Scientific American suggests that homicides in the U.S. actually stem from a very different kind of source: the nation’s high rates of income inequality.
Eric Michael Johnson cites a study conducted by Harvard’s Ichiro Kawachi that analyzed the homicide rates in each state and the District of Columbia. Kawachi found that as the gap between the rich and the poor rose, the rate of homicide rose along with it:
The results were unambiguous: when income inequality was higher, so was the rate of homicide. Income inequality alone explained 74% of the variance in murder rates and half of the aggravated assaults. However, social capital had an even stronger association and, by itself, accounted for 82% of homicides and 61% of assaults. Other factors such as unemployment, poverty, or number of high school graduates were only weakly associated and alcohol consumption had no connection to violent crime at all. A World Bank sponsored study subsequently confirmed these results on income inequality concluding that, worldwide, homicide and the unequal distribution of resources are inextricably tied.
Income inequality in the U.S. has been rapidly rising since 1979. And an uptick in violent crimes certainly isn’t the only documented negative effect of the widening gulf between the rich and the poor. Studies have already shown that economic disparity has caused a problematic education gap, put an outsized burden on the Social Security program, and stifled the political power of a downtrodden middle class.