Meet John Doe: The relationship between crime, poverty and income inequality

By Paul Gorski

This column is, in part, a comment on Senior Assistant Editor Brandon Reid’s “Editorial: Rockford’s violent crime rate virtually unchanged in 2013” from the Nov 6-12 issue. I commend Reid for tackling the issue of local crime; it appears that he will be writing a series of articles about the topic, and I don’t want to interfere with his efforts.

Suffice to say there is a relationship between crime, poverty and income equality, but there is still debate as to the details of the relationship.

Researchers have been trying to sort out the root causes of crime in urban and rural areas for years. Research going back to the 1960s has shown a relationship between poverty and property crime, with the relationship between poverty, unemployment and violent crime not being as well established.

More recently, largely as result of some research done in 2009, researchers have been targeting “income inequality” as a cause for some crime, property crime mostly. Income equality being loosely defined as the difference between the top and bottom wage earners in a community. The difference between the “haves” and “have nots.”

While instinctively I would tend to agree with the income equality argument, Reid cites declines in certain crimes over the past year or two. This despite relatively high poverty and unemployment rates during the same time. While income equality may be involved, more research is required.

What is clear is that Rockford has a poverty rate approaching 25 percent and higher-than-average unemployment rate, and, as Reid points out, a violent crime rate that is trending higher. We also have fewer residents enrolled in college or who have attended college compared to communities of similar size like Aurora and Peoria. None of this is good for our region.

You’ll note that I haven’t been citing references. Most of the references I would cite are very technical papers, not the overviews done by popular news magazines. I plan on citing references online, in response to Reid’s columns, as appropriate.

I look forward to Brandon Reid’s series “A Criminal’s Paradise: A County Without Consequences.” I hope he can better illustrate the local relationship between crime, poverty and income inequality.

Paul Gorski ( is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

From the Nov. 13-19, 2013, issue

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