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The Homicide Rate, Race and Poverty

In my last post, I noted a positive correlation between the homicide rate in a state and killings by the police in the same state. In states where the risk of homicide is higher, police killings also tend to be higher. But there is a mitigating race component, and one which (not surprisingly for those who care about data) goes against conventional wisdom:

for the same state homicide rate, people are less likely to be shot by cops in states where Black people make up 10% or more of the population than in states where people make less than 10% of the population.

Looking at homicides, and accounting for race, it seems there are different dynamics at play among different population groups:

Figure 1
(Click to embiggen.)

I can’t find murder rates (whether victimization or offender) by race at the state level, but I do note that the data appears to show a clear relationship between the overall murder rate and the ethnic makeup of a given state:

Figures 2a and 2b


Relative to the rest of the population, there is an elevated homicide rate (both offense and victimization) in our Black population. Thus, if we want to reduce the homicide rate, perhaps the opportunity is greatest in understanding why the homicide rate is as high as it is in the Black community.

Poverty is often mentioned as a factor driving crimes in general, and sometimes homicides in particular. To examine whether that is the case here, the next graph shows the percentage of a state’s population that is Black on one axis, and the homicide (victimization) rate on the other axis. States with fewer than 3 million than people are omitted. Additionally, states with a Black poverty rate in excess of 22% (which is approximately the median poverty rate for the Black population, measured by state) are colored orange:

Figure 3 - header changed

While the homicide rate is lower in states with less poverty (median of 42 murders per million v. 58), there is no clear pattern that would indicate that poverty rates the Black community are a primary driver of the murder rates according to the above graph. If that isn’t clear to you, the graph below includes the same information but from a different perspective.

Figure 4


So the data seems to indicate that reducing poverty in the Black community, while a laudable goal for any number of reasons, is probably not going to have a strong influence on the homicide rate.

This post is getting long so it’s time to wrap it up. I note, however, that I have collected other data (e.g., pop density, measures of segregation, education levels, single parenthood, etc.) which hopefully I can put into similar graphs in later posts. Perhaps among these variables will be an indication as to what can be done to reduce the homicide rate and reduce the number of victims, particularly in the Black community.

One final note… if anyone knows where I can get data on the homicide rate by different population groups by state please let me know.

Update, 7/31/2017, 5:21 PM PST

As should be obvious from the wording of the post, I was concerned that someone might misconstrue the second to the last graph.  To make the homicide relationship more obvious, I included the last graph as a companion piece. However, a habitually rude offender claims to believe that the states with a relatively low level of Black poverty (i.e., the blue points on the second to the last graph) have a different relationship between Black poverty and homicide rates than the states with relatively high levels of Black poverty, and all of that is being somehow masked by the existence of Maryland. So… below please find the same graph, redone, including only the states with low levels of Black poverty, but leaving out Maryland. (Note that the slope of the graph below is actually steeper than the slope of the graph with a broader set of data though the fit isn’t as high.)

Figure 5 - for update

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More on Police Shootings and Race

In my last post, I linked to a post by Peter Moskos noting that:

People, all people, are 1.6 times more likely, per capita, to be shot and killed by police in states that are less than 10 percent black compared to states more than 10 percent African American. Blacks are still more likely than whites, per capita to be shot overall. But this ratio (2.6:1) doesn’t change significantly based on how black a state is.
For both whites and blacks, the likelihood of being shot by police is greater in states with fewer blacks. And the difference is rather large. There are seven states less than two percent black. In 2015 and 2016, zero blacks were shot and killed in Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. But if you think cops don’t shoot people in these states, you’re wrong. Compared to the four states with the highest percentage of African-American (Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland are more than 30 percent black), the overall rate of police-involved killings in states with few blacks is higher. And this is despite a lower rate of overall violence.

It seems an odd result, so I have given it a bit of thought. I think I know what is happening and will try to provide a bit of an explanation over a few posts. I will start by noting that this is what the homicide rate looks like by state when put against the rate of killings by police:

Homicides v killings by police, figure 1
(Click to embiggen. Note that data sources are shown on the chart.)

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Economics Cannot Find Racism; Just Move Along

One of my favorite paper presentations ever was by Daniel Parent, who is a good enough reason in himself for pending Labor Economists to apply to HEC. He was trying to present data on income inequalities in the Financial Services industry and was forced to note—all right, I asked—that they didn’t have the data to determine if there was a racial difference in earnings because there wasn’t enough data on high-earning Blacks in the sample to be “statistically significant.” Since the sample used IRS data, among other sources, the answer was clear.

Now (via Tyler Cowen), I see that “not statistically significant” is not just for Financial Services Executives; the WSJ’s markets blog notes:

On average, Republican professors gave black students grades that were .2 of a grade point lower than their Democratic colleagues, or about two-thirds of the distance between a B and a B-minus.

(Among eleven black professors in the sample, there were no Republicans, and the Democrats appeared to grade white and black students as their white-Democratic peers did. But there were too few black professors to make that finding statistically significant.)

Again, the finding may not be statistically significant, but the sample, er, complection is.

Their data set is available here.

UPDATE: Thoreau riffs on the subject and finds a link to the paper.

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In Which I Hope I’m Gettying Pranked

This cannot be true, can it?

Louisiana Justice of the Peace Denies Marriage License to Interracial Couple:

According to [Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish], he won’t support interracial marriages because he doesn’t feel that black or white society will accept the children of the couple once they are born.

I can’t find him in Martindale-Hubbell, but other articles note him saying:

“I’ve been a justice of the peace for 34 years and I don’t think I’ve mistreated anybody. I’ve made some mistakes, but you have too. I didn’t tell this couple they couldn’t get married. I just told them I wouldn’t do it.”


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