Blog author: abradley
by on Wednesday, August 7, 2013

13317570-indoor-crime-sceneEmily Badger at The Atlantic Wire posts a common sense story regarding the debate about whether or not the dispersing of poor people out of inner-city housing projects into suburban neighborhoods, through government housing voucher programs, increases crime rates. The article reflects recent research by Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA.

A growing stack of research now supports [the] hypothesis that housing vouchers do not in fact lead to crime. Lens has just added another study to that literature, published in the journal Urban Studies. He looked at crime and housing data in 215 cities between 1997 and 2008 – controlling for national and regional crime trends, demographic and income variables, employment rates and more – and found “virtually no relationship” between the prevalence of Housing Choice Voucher Program households and higher crime at the city level or in the suburbs. In previous research, Lens and colleagues had investigated the same question at the neighborhood level.

“Although communities with a higher prevalence of voucher households appear to be higher in crime,” Lens writes, “there is no evidence that this is due to voucher households increasing crime.”

Lens’ findings should not sound too surprising given the fact that poverty does not cause criminal behavior in the first place. In fact, immoral behavior has never been a function of class but a matter of moral fortitude. Granted, poverty most certainly introduces particular temptations (Prov 30:8) but so does wealth (Prov 22:16). Poor people do not have more moral limitations than those who are wealthy. To assume such is make human dignity a function of class and once we cross that road, the poor find themselves the victims of patronizing oppression.


The erroneous assumption that criminals commit crimes because they are poor completely misses the most foundational truths about human nature and tends to send policy-makers on fool’s errands to lower crime rates by redistributing wealth and increasing welfare programs. For example, many progressives confidently suggest that raising the minimum wage will lower violent crime rates in Chicago. This connection should sound strange because it is. The West, in general, seems to have embraced a sort of determinism that links human behavior to materialism.

What we have known throughout human history, however, is that what increases crime rates are criminals. People commit crimes because they believe it to be in their self-interest to violate the dignity and property of others. Criminals have a low view of their own dignity and the dignity of others. That’s a moral problem. Giving housing vouchers to men and women who have no moral reservations about committing crime, regardless of socio-economic status, is simply giving criminals a new place to violate others. This phenomena was experienced when crime rates in Atlanta suburbs exploded after housing vouchers were given to many public housing residents in inner-city Atlanta. The crime rates went up not because low-income people from the city moved to new areas, because there were already low-income people in those areas. Crime increased because criminals found new opportunities to continue their criminal activity, again, because they do not value other people.

While studies like this provide great observations of trends and patterns, they offer very little in understanding that crime rates will only be reduced when their is a moral incentive for men and women to respect the dignity of their neighbor and their neighbor’s property.


  • tamsin

    Heather Mac Donald: A Crime Theory Demolished http://on.wsj.com/okIvP3

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  • Curt Day

    Anthony,

    At least you could say about the relationship between poverty and crime is that the results are inconsistent. And the fact that they are would contradict your statement that says “given the fact that poverty does not cause criminal behavior in the first place”

    A brief citation of studies showing the correlation between poverty and crime can be found at Dynamics Of Poverty And Crime. Yes, correlation does not prove cause and effect but it can suggest that a cause and effect can exist.

    Now correct me if I am wrong but it seems you attribute the cause for crime to be solely that of individual choice via a lack of moral fortitude. But didn’t you just moderate an event that included Tim Keller who said that an individual’s sins was partly because of the community and the system? And couldn’t we at least say that when poverty exists because of the system, that it becomes a partial, not complete, cause of crime along with our sinful nature?

    On that night, you had some very helpful things to say about racism. But on this blog, you seem to overlook an ism in our society that, like racism, marginalizes people. That ism is economic classism and it is conducted by those who are consolidating wealth and leaving others left behind.

    To the extent that induced poverty causes instability and that instability makes some more prone to certain sins than a stable environment does, then poverty is a partial cause for crime. And those who induce that poverty have provided stumbling blocks to those who live in poverty who fall to temptation. That would seem to be at least partially correct biblically speaking.