Homicides rose to record levels in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. 2021 was even worse: more than two-thirds of the country’s 40 most populous cities had even more homicides in 2021 than in 2020. Violence haunts us at our grocery stores, it even threatens our children in elementary schools. The problem is vexing but the solution is actually quite simple, despite what politicians say. Simply put, employed people don’t shoot. More mentors, police and mediators won’t solve anything– creating meaningful employment for young people is the silver bullet.
Toronto has a larger population in Chicago but in 2021, Chicago had 797 homicides while Toronto only had 84. There’s clearly a problem and it’s distinctly American. But it’s not mysterious. In her groundbreaking book, ‘The New Jim Crow,’ professor Michelle Alexander pointed out that the best corollary to violent crime is joblessness, not race. Even so, politicians are quick to point to everything else but their inability to create jobs in this country. On the right, elected officials talk about the breakdown of the family and the need for more cops. On the left, the predictable playbook is to highlight the need for more social services. Neither side is willing to talk openly about the fact that overwhelmingly, young Black people in poor neighborhoods are unemployed. The reason? Neither side has an answer.
An analysis of 2017 census data indicated that 45% of Black men in Chicago between 20 and 24 years of age were neither employed or in school. Individuals without work, assets or ownership, have little to lose. Individuals not due at work in the morning have the liberty to stay out later, when trouble is more accessible. Yet 45% of young Black men in Chicago had no attachment in 2017– where else would you expect the illegal drug trade to recruit its workforce? Violent crime is the inevitable result. The drug trade drives a disproportionate amount of homicides in particular. Others commit violent crimes for other reasons but the common denominator almost always is joblessness. Simply put, people with careers, bills and other obligations have too much to protect to shoot someone over a social media beef.
This isn’t new. Chicago had more homicides in 1925 than in 2015. At the height of alcohol prohibition, European immigrants ran the illegal liquor trade and carnage ensued. Rather than continue to criminalize them, however, the nation corrected an error in public policy (repealing prohibition) and those young men were incorporated into the legitimate economy. They didn’t need more rec centers, mentors or a better family structure, they were able to make a living without being criminalized. Black people aren’t anymore pathological than Al Capone and his goons were. Still, there is a resistance to pursuing real solutions: locking up Black youth is palatable at any cost but employing them simply won’t do.
Chicago has close to 3 million residents and yet not even close to 1 percent of the city’s population is responsible for the thousands of shootings that occur annually. Rather than spend billions on policing, incarcerating and surveilling a microscopic percentage of 2.7 million people, it would make far more sense to target and employ them. The Goonie Boss Gang, for example, was targeted by the Chicago Police and FBI in an elaborate, multi-year investigation that cost taxpayers millions (especially when subsequent court and incarceration costs are considered). The Goonie Boss Gang was alleged to be responsible for some 11 homicides over three years. In 2018, it was announced that 23 alleged members of the Chicago street gang were charged as a result of that investigation. It would have been much cheaper to just employ those 23 young people but politicians on both the left and right, of all races, simply can’t fathom another world.
Black voters must insist that politicians see a different world. No more distractions, jobs. But more than anything, Black communities must accept the ultimate responsibility for creating jobs for Black youth. That must happen through private businesses, making demands of corporations and of course, the government. To be sure, there will always be crazy people in any community– that cannot be helped. Even with full employment, there will most certainly be a small percentage of people who simply go astray. But there’s no way that a large share of young people who commit violent crime are beyond repair, as the prohibition gangsters proved.
In the meantime, we must create wealth and opportunity for our children. The simplest way to do that is to transfer wealth, taxfree, through viable life insurance policies.