September 13, 2023
Economic hardship, racial segregation, social isolation, joblessness, and other forms of underinvestment in communities contribute to high violent crime rates. Socioeconomic disadvantage is particularly concentrated in Black neighborhoods. The sociologist Lauren K. Krivo and her colleagues created an index of socioeconomic disadvantage to study over 8,000 neighborhoods in 71 cities. They found that “[a]lmost all African American neighborhoods have above average disadvantage,” and nearly one-third of Black neighborhoods were in the highest category of disadvantage. The United States, which faces uniquely high rates of gun deaths, will not be as safe as it can be until these structural inequalities are minimized. Fixing these problems cannot happen overnight, but interventions do exist that can be achieved fairly quickly to set the country on the right path.
One such intervention is to provide subsidized employment and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to individuals at risk for involvement in violent crime. This approach was recently evaluated by economists and was shown to have impressive results. The researchers analyzed the data from a randomized controlled trial of the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (also known as READI) in Chicago. The sub-sample derived from outreach-worker referrals yielded impressive results. All the participants were men and 99 percent were Black. The READI participants were 43 percent less likely to be a victim of a shooting or homicide and 79 percent less likely to be arrested for a shooting or homicide than the control group.
In READI, both the subsidized employment and CBT were important. The researchers reported that “over dozens of interviews and focus groups, participants and program staff said the job was a crucial incentive to participate.” The value of the subsidized employment should not be diminished, and it goes beyond the participation incentive. The researchers report that the men were struggling with homelessness and other financial difficulties. Employment helps in these circumstances. The researchers reason that employment provides several positive benefits: “a stable source of income to deter illegal work, . . . a place for participants to build and reinforce new skills and norms, and a reason to spend less time in dangerous settings.” Additionally, they report, “It was apparent in the information we collected that the investment in the community (both the urban renewal work participants performed and the READI-induced hiring at community organizations) were valuable to those who took part in READI, and that at least some participants reported unmeasured impacts on relationship quality, self[-]confidence, and community integration.” These broader and more diffuse participant and community benefits were not the primary focus of the narrow, scientific evaluation, but they are significant positive effects nonetheless.
READI does not stand alone. Several other subsidized employment programs have been found to reduce crime. For example, the New York City and Chicago subsidized summer jobs programs for youth both reduce crime and incarceration. The Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality has identified several rigorously evaluated subsidized programs for adults that reduce arrests, recidivism, and involvement with the criminal legal system. Employment helps to reduce the risk of crime and gun violence. If policymakers wish to create safer communities, they need to invest in these types of subsidized employment programs.