"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime." — Aristotle
Aristotle had a point, but there are many factors that contribute to crime. Experts have told us about them for a long time. Poverty; unemployment; lack of education or adequate housing; the breakdown of the two-parent family; mental illness; drug abuse; and sexual exploitation of children (which can result in lifelong trauma and antisocial behavior) are some of the main contributors.
The good news is that our overall crime rate is going down. So, we must be on the right track, correct? In a lot of respects, we are.
The U.S. Census Bureau's latest statistics (2018) show the poverty rate at a near record low of 11.8%. Contrast that with 23% back in 1960 or 16% in the mid-'80s.
The Labor Department reports that last month's unemployment rate of 3.5% was the lowest in 50 years. And not only are more people working; wages rose more than 3% in November. All racial groups benefited.
Our population is now reported to be more educated than ever before, with 90% able to say they have completed high school or higher levels of education. Again, all racial groups improved their learning levels in the last decade. This bodes well for their job prospects and economic well-being.
When citizens are educated, working and making a decent wage, they turn to criminal activity less often. It is just common sense.
Once you look past all the political posturing and doom and gloom of today's headlines, it is easy to see some optimistic crime trends taking place. The economic developments mentioned above, coupled with the aging of Americans past their crime-prone years, translates to fewer crimes and fewer victims.
Yes, there will always be some criminal activity, but its impact can be lessened if we look toward the future. Naturally, there is room for improvement.
Take teenage pregnancy, for example. The U.S. teen birth rate continues to go down — now at about 19 births for every 1,000 females under 19 — but we still have the highest teen pregnancy rate of all developed countries. Children born to single teen mothers often start out life in poverty and continue to face an uphill battle over the years. One study showed that kids growing up in poverty are seven times more likely to harm themselves and get involved in violent crimes when they become young adults.
The top states for teen pregnancy — Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas and West Virginia — could see their crime rates go down if they seriously focus on reducing teen pregnancies today.
Homelessness still plagues us as a nation, and where people are desperate for shelter and food, crime can result. Nationwide, the problem has been improving over the last decade, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, but last year, about 553,000 people were homeless in America for at least one night. The most troublesome spots include at least five separate counties in California, two counties in Washington state and the New York City area. Figuring out a way to help improve the homelessness situation in those areas could also contribute to lowering the crime rate.
And, if we really want to plan ahead for a safer nation, we should concentrate on increasing the number of psychiatric beds — in both public and private hospitals. Right now, there are fewer beds per capita in the United States than there were in 1850. You read that right — 1850. This is one of the most underserved segments of our society, and when the mentally ill go unassisted, tragic things can happen to them — and us.
We have come a long way toward reducing crime, but obviously there is more work to do. If only politicians would understand that most citizens care more about issues of quality of life like the economy, jobs and family safety, and a whole lot less about all-consuming partisan political machinations.
Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist and television reporter of high-profile court cases.