The Real Cost of Crime

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"The Real Cost of Crime"

Vacant rowhouses in Baltimore (cc photo by Eli Pousson)

Vacant rowhouses in Baltimore (cc photo by Eli Pousson)

Interesting Baltimore crime fact from Ezra Klein: “Of the 234 murders last year, 194 of the victims (82 per cent) had criminal records and 163 (70 per cent) had a history of being arrested for drug offenses.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates comments that this is “one of the many reasons why a ‘dangerous neighborhood’ often feels more dangerous to outsiders . . . a lot of the ‘survival’ that goes on in the neighborhood involves who you hand around, and where you hang within that neighborhood.”

That, in turn, is a reminder that the bulk of the cost of crime almost certainly isn’t the cost directly paid by victims, it’s the costs incurred in terms of crime-avoiding behavior. Some of this cost is in terms of the efforts people living in high-crime areas go through to keep themselves safe. And some of it is quite far reaching. A dangerous neighborhood may, in fact, be relatively safe for people who live their and know the score. But it’s dangerous to outsiders. Which means that even if you’ve got some great recipes it’ll be hard to open up a restaurant and attract customers no matter how low the prevailing rents are. Which means that jobs serving the food and cleaning up won’t be available, and it means that young people who might get those jobs won’t acquire the skills that would have been involved in working alongside you and learning your recipes.

Residents of the neighborhood would prefer, all things considered, not to raise their kids in an environment where the question of “who you hand around” can be a life or death issue. So people with relatively high levels of income and social capital put together enough money to leave. Which means that the neighborhood lacks strong political advocates for delivering basic services adequately. Or at another level, you could tally up all the money Americans spend on things like securing guards and alarm systems and iron bars on doors or “the club” and note that these are not really productive investments or enjoyable consumer goods.

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