Poverty and Crime


NEW COMMENTS RECEIVED: Is there a connection?

(originally published Oct 12, 2013)
Poverty and crime have a very “intimate” relationship that has been described by experts from all fields, from sociologists to economists. The UN and the World Bank both rank crime high on the list of obstacles to a country’s development. This means that governments trying to deal with poverty often also have to face the issue of crime as they try to develop their country’s economy and society.

Crime prevents businesses from thriving by generating instability and uncertainty (at micro and macroeconomic levels). This is true in markets of all sizes, national, regional, municipal and even neighborhood-al (okay the word doesn’t exist). Which is why having a business in a ghetto is rarely a good idea, is it?

The whole world also blames crime and corruption for putting at risk Africa’s chances of development nowadays. The same goes for Latin America. Crime has this capacity to generate vicious cycles causing unemployment, economic downturns and instability. Poverty and crime combined together leave people with two choices: either take part in criminal activities or try to find legal but quite limited sources of income – when there are any available at all.

Unemployment = Poverty = Crime:

Starting from the 1970s, studies in the US pointed more and more at the link between unemployment, poverty and crime. After that other connections with income level, time spent at school, quality of neighborhood and education were revealed as well. Fresh research from the UK even indicates that economic cycles may affect variations in property and violent crimes.

But most importantly, what reveals the unmistakable connection between poverty and crime is that they’re both geographically concentrated – in a strikingly consistent way. In other words, where you find poverty (minority neighborhoods) is also exactly where you find crime. Of course this doesn’t include “softer” crimes such as corruption which causes massive damage to people’s lives but in a more indirect type of violence.

In the 1990s, the “first wave” (of immigrants) has rarely shown such outburst of violence. In theory the main difference with the first generation of these immigrants’ children is that they have spent much more time at school, as research has often concluded that education tends to reduce violent crime.

On average, the more time a youth spends at school the less violent he/she will become. Schools don’t just teach you about history or maths, they teach you how to live in society. But the real problem is: are kids in poor urban areas even going to school at all? Are they learning any social skills when being systematically discriminated against? Research dating back to 1966 – with the famous Coleman Report – shows integration into society is key to better grades and successful education.

What is the right path?

Why would anyone follow the “right path” (i.e. schools) if you see that your parents did so and are still jobless or at best exploited and humiliated? Or if your identity and your place in society are constantly questioned, often by the government itself? It certainly won’t help you feel good at home.

Does poverty causes crime?

In the countries where the social discrimination factor isn’t very strong, results have shown that less education meant more criminal offenses ranging from property crime to “casual” theft and drug-related offenses (again, mostly theft). But not violence. It appears that in fact, poverty itself is more tied with violence, criminal damage and also drug use – as a catalyst for violence.

There are huge consequences of this kind of research for public policy and the positive impact of keeping children in school and reducing poverty. But for that we would need governments to actually read the research their universities produce! It shouldn’t seem like too much of a stretch to argue that having kids actually graduate from school will in itself contribute to reduce poverty, no?

The effect of poverty and inequalities on mixed populations:

Another study across 20 cities in the US analyses how local inequalities and heterogeneous populations can influence crime rates. As ever more countries face problems related to immigration, policymakers should be aware that inequality, even within one ethnic group, is a major cause of crime.

It’s also crucial to take into account how many ethnic groups live within a single neighborhood to understand local dynamics. Some are more likely to clash against others, depending on where they live. When inequalities are great, crime goes over the roof both within and between different ethnic populations. The more heterogeneous, the more jealousy, the more misunderstandings and the more crime there can be in a given place.

The spectacle of wealth

It is generally when people witness the starkest wealth differences in society that they can begin complaining about injustice. In fact, often time’s crime is even worse within communities. Perhaps because it’s easier, but maybe also because inequalities are felt all the more intensely when it happens between people living in the same group.

For example, in China some 90,000 demonstrations occur every year and what the media never mention is that the bulk of it it happens at the “border” between urban and rural areas, where poor farmers can see firsthand the massive inequalities between rich urban residents and themselves.

The Cost Benefit Analysis:

As of recent, it cost $123,400 to incarcerate a youth in a correctional facility in Ohio and only $19,800 to send the same youth to Ohio State University. Under this scenario, the state of Ohio could send every youth to college all the way up to their Master’s degree in place of a single year in a juvenile facility.

But obviously, no tax payer is going to allow their hard earned money to provide a free education to an at-risk youth regardless of the $1,000,000 (return on investment) benefit to society that would follow after the youth completes his education and transitions successfully into the workforce. It is quite strange that communities never have to vote on some levy or special funds to keep paying for prison beds.

And finally, why does a state, county, or city (school district) have to be sued or forced to finally invest into the education of its youth, but rarely ever question building another prison to house the youth we know will be coming if we continue to not provide an adequate intervention to these youth at an early enough age to all collectively reap the benefits of supporting youth to become successful adults.



Peace Education Center in Lansing, Michigan, holds community dialogues on Poverty and Wealth in April


An exciting message from Terry Link in Lansing, Michigan, describes upcoming community events at Michigan State University (on April 4) and Lansing Community College (on April 9) that are organized by the Peace Education Center and co-sponsored by big name community supporters.

Hello John,
Just wanted to let you know that we finally have all the pieces aligned to run the NDN program on Poverty and Wealth here in Lansing, MI. We have two sessions organized – the first at MSU for the larger campus community , nearly 60,000 potential participants, although we’ll be happy with any more than 50. The second to be held at the local community college on downtown Lansing. The local Peace Education Center is the organizing force for both (I am a board member) but as you will see from the flyers we’ve solicited co-sponsorship from different entities for each event.

We hope to have the surveys completed and will find volunteers to submit them online back to NDN. We will also be doing an interview in advance of the events on our public radio station’s public affairs show at a date yet to be determined. I will keep you both posted as we move ahead. I will be travelling March 13-27, so you likely won’t hear anything further back from me until I return. Below is the note I sent out to campus sponsors this morning. For more info see the website

All good things,
Terry Link

The problem of an ever expanding disparity between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s” has become the issue of the day.

Please join us in a respectful conversation about a problem that affects us all. We will use a process and materials designed by the National Dialogue Network, funded by a grant from the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation. Seated in small groups, we will listen to each other’s perspectives to further our own understanding of the concerns and possibilities surrounding this important issue.
There will be two sessions, one for the Michigan State University (MSU) community and a second one for the larger Lansing community.

MSU Session, APRIL 4, 3–5 PM, MSU Main Library, North Conference Room, 4th Floor West. This event co-sponsored College of Communication Arts and Sciences, College of Social Science, Residential College of Arts and Humanities, Peace and Justice Studies program, Philosophy, and the Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing.

Seating is limited so reserve a seat please send your name and email to: The event flyer can be downloaded here.

Greater Lansing Community Session, APRIL 9, 7-9 PM, Lansing Community College, Administration Building Board Room. This event is hosted by Lansing Community College and sponsored by the Peace Education Center, Michigan League for Public Policy, Capital Area District Library, Power of We Consortium, Justice & Peace Task Force at Edgewood United Church, League of Women Voters – Lansing Area, Red Cedar Friends Meeting, and Common Cause of Michigan. Seating is limited, so to reserve a seat please send your name and email to: The event flyer can be downloaded here.


Zilino demonstration dialogue on Poverty and Wealth in America


Zilino begins demonstration dialogue on Poverty and Wealth in America.

Zilino Invite

Zilino is a new web-based solution for hosting deliberative online forums that enables practitioners to design and manage well structured, well facilitated group conversations.

Please join us for our next Zilino demo dialogue on “Poverty and Wealth in America”, March 3-7, 2014. We’ll be following the materials created by the National Dialogue Network. The expected time commitment for the average participant is roughly three hours total (approx. 15-30 minutes per day), less if you’d prefer to join as a passive observer.

Email, and we’ll send you an invite.


Continuing the conversation on Poverty and Wealth


Maurice Ward at the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington State, has provided a detailed response to a comment about his previous post on “Poverty and Crime.”
One quote from Maurice:

In my personal life I can tell you that almost every single African-American and Latino youth that I have ever met are born with nearly half of the precursors and held responsible on day one for the environment they cannot afford to escape. I don’t suggest we buy every one of them a father, a home, a low drug use neighborhood, or parents who stay married, but I would suggest providing equitable opportunities to all youth in all communities.

Please follow this link to read the original article and add your own thoughts:


Wealth and Poverty in America: A Collective Narrative


Community Conversation on Wealth and Poverty in America at Kaiser Center in Oakland, CA

Community Conversation on Wealth and Poverty in America at Kaiser Center in Oakland, CA



This collective narrative presents ideas that were brought to or emerged in the conversation on Poverty and Wealth in America hosted by Fedor OvchinnikovDana PearlmanAntoine MooreKathleen Paylor, and Steve Snider at the Kaiser Center Garden Room in Oakland, CA on November 8, 2013. This narrative is based on the notes taken by Rani Croager, Nathan Heinz, Betsy Morris, Elizabeth Banks, and Josie Smith Malave. All participants had an opportunity to review the draft and suggest their own edits, and then our professional editor Amber Vyn polished the final text. We realize that there are many ideas and points of view that were not part of this particular conversation, and we aspire for this collective narrative to grow and evolve as data from more conversations on wealth and poverty become available. If you have any questions about this text or want to take part in its ongoing development, please contact Fedor Ovchinnikov at Amber Vyn can be contacted at

On November 8, 2013, around 20 individuals from a broad cross-section of the Bay Area community came together to discuss the difficult subject of wealth and poverty in America.  Our hosts asked us to bring our burning questions about wealth and poverty to small group discussions and suggested a process called World Café to help us deeply listen to one another and tap into the collective intelligence of the whole group – to truly connect with what was emerging from our conversations.

The room was set with mood lighting, a circle of chairs, a potluck table and windows that looked onto a garden. We began with an opening circle to center ourselves and connect with each other, and a group consciousness emerged. We realized that we were in this room, in this circle, for a reason passionately or curiously alight deep inside of us all.

Then we moved from the opening circle to cafe tables to share our questions and personal stories behind them. Our questions were around the causes of income disparity as well as different options about what would allow us to reduce poverty on a systemic level, like redistribution through increased taxation, localized wealth creation, competitive cooperatives, various grassroots economic programs or even fundamental changes suggested by thought leaders like Robert Reich and Charles Eisenstein. One of us recalled how Martin Luther King, Jr. wove his own story into the big questions, The Big Why, which was a crystallized intention to dig deep.

We also brought questions about the nature of wealth and poverty, about barriers to work and advancement like incarceration and lack of access to certain types of education, about how different people got to the economic levels they are at, about how we would like to change and what we can do to make things better in our society. Some of us wondered why we do not usually talk about wealth and poverty, while others suggested that a conversation about disparity itself might be a source of division and the perpetuation of bias. It was not an easy conversation, but at the end it was clear that we were longing for it to continue.

Five dedicated note takers did their best to capture all table conversations. When these notes were put together, the following patterns clearly manifested.

If we think about wealth and power in monetary terms, we see a ridiculous concentration of wealth. A recent study by Mark Rank of Washington University showed that 79% of all Americans will face economic insecurity by the time they are 60. That means that the majority of all Americans will face either joblessness, dependency on public assistance or an income that falls below the poverty line. While poverty does not discriminate, how does such disparity happen? Not just in the US, but worldwide? How does it grow? What are the systems that perpetuate our economic inequality?

We recognized numerous needs in terms of housing, hunger, education and policy making. Most of all, we realized not only the number but the profound complexity of the barriers to reducing or eliminating income disparity. Sometimes, the problem feels like a runaway train, and attempting to halt it or even keep it on the rails seems futile. However, we did arrive at some themes that offer hope.

The solution to these systemic issues though is not obvious and depends on how we define the problem and the push for change. Are we pushing for socialism? A growth economy? Do we need to restore the middle class or to reinvent it? Depending on what side you are on, what you are doing is going to be a very different thing. So, how we define the problem and what the different perspectives are for the people involved are all very important.

Untapped Talent
On a personal level, there needs to be a better understanding of where we all are. We all have basic human needs that must be met, and people in poverty, by definition, cannot meet even their basic needs. Often, they don’t feel like full participants in society because their needs are not met.

Poverty is in your face, so you may be in one role or another, but that role is constantly being reminded. It is a persistent wound. Once in poverty, occupation with where the next meal will come from and if there will be shelter for another day eliminates the possibility of enjoying opportunities associated with good nutrition, educational options and creative exploration. Each day is occupied with concern about surviving instead of living. With basic needs unmet, the wound cuts through any sense of self-worth. This creates a situation where people are coming from decades and decades of not feeling worthy while they, on a daily basis, demonstrate their resilience and persistence.

It should be commonly recognized that the skills and talents required to survive under poverty can be cultivated into success in industry. Our society has shamed people around being poor, but there is an untapped well of supercharged leaders when that shame is stripped away. There is a need to get away from the pervasive savior complex suggesting that “those poor folks are empty vessels to be filled by my bounty” and to acknowledge that all people have a right to be active agents, free to express their talents and create the life they envision for themselves.

However, this brings up another question: Who gets to create? Who gets the space, time and privilege to fail without their family becoming homeless? People have got to make a living, and the desperation that results from the inability to accomplish this becomes homelessness, imprisonment or even death. When an individual is shamed or crushed by it all, it is cruel to view the economy as a game where there is a clear demarcation between privileged winners and losers who have no one but themselves to blame because they didn’t play the game right. Obviously, we need a massive restructuring of our economy, but where to start?

We really need to focus on creating a safe environment, connecting people’s skills and talents with opportunities through accessible and effective education and other services, and, maybe, a guaranteed annual income so that the wounded could regain self-worth, be creative without putting their basic living conditions at risk and ultimately step onto a path to prosperity.

Spiritual Wealth
The path to prosperity also spurred a new question about wealth and well-being. Yes, poor people obviously need more money, but to what end? As they move out of their previous situation and onto the spectrum of wealth, we come into all sorts of questions about how much wealth is enough for us to feel happy. Are we going to feel happy when we are in the far end on the spectrum, or are we going to feel more happy when we are in this other end of the spectrum, or is there somewhere in the middle that we need to work towards? Where does fear of falling into poverty lead to greed?

So there was a shift from a place of quick blame – it’s the corporations; it’s the rich who need to change; the tax code needs fixing — to inner conditions and solutions within ourselves and other’s inner lives: that the root causes of growing wealth and poverty come from people’s inner sense of fear and manifest as greed.

It is fascinating how our perception of wealth and value motivate us in different ways. Home ownership or material possession often becomes a goal in itself, in order to feel that you have something. We now have Land Lords where previously we had feudal lords. The entire way that our economic system is set up is based on scarcity and ownership, making money off of someone else’s labor. When we’re talking about change, we’re not just talking about mandating a “living wage” but completely redefining “work”. What does “one hour” mean? Why is an hour of one person’s life more valuable than one hour of someone else’s? We’re talking about an hour of someone’s life.

These questions appeared to be in the intersection of the economy as a system and our worldview, our spiritual life. Scarcity and abundance don’t necessarily come with our income; scarcity and abundance are also about spiritual values vs. economic values. If we want to create change, do we need to focus on the former or the latter, or do we need to pay attention to both? Is there perhaps some totally new concept emerging to replace the two and help us turn the fear and greed within us and the scarcity within our economy into universal abundance? People need different morals, more humanity, connections with others, community and spiritual connection. So what would be the definition of “spiritual wealth”?

When we talk about wealth and poverty in America, we should also talk about separation and segregation. This means you may be in a particular class and not even really have any idea about it because you’re never exposed to anything different. In the United States, the communities of wealth are isolated from impoverished communities in a more substantial way than in other countries.

In some countries, you might have a lot of money but every day you walk down the street and interact with twenty people who are in poverty, so you are in it and used to it. It’s a day to day reality. And in some other countries there is this division, so that separation of our various communities is something that we have as a barrier to actually trying to work with this issue. How do we overcome this barrier so that we can work on it?

When we focus on money, we fear that things might get harder, so we tend to just take care of our piece of the world: our family and our neighborhood. When things are going wrong in these areas, we just focus on taking care of ourselves. To make it even worse, modern technology gives us plenty of opportunity to sacrifice real connection and substitute it with an ever-glowing iPhone screen.

So what do we lose by focusing only on money? How can we reclaim what we’ve lost? This is a philosophical question but also a practical one. How do we change it so it doesn’t revert? How do we change it at the root, not just address symptoms, so that we create a system that prevents poverty instead of one that tries to cure it after the fact? How do we break the illusion that the impoverished are The Other and show the reality that we are all one community that functions in unison?

Although the wealthy and the impoverished are deeply interconnected, it is often hard to see that interconnectedness because the very way our society functions seeks to render this connection invisible. For example, take the clothing that we are wearing: we don’t see where it comes from at all. The same is true with the meat that we buy in our stores – it is just there provided for us; we don’t know the process that it took to get it. These days, we see the stories of separation increasing, and a greater polarization is taking place. So we are longing for a consensus around the interconnectedness of everyone, and we are longing for more visibility.

When the spiritual sense of connection is recognized, conversations organically evolve towards people’s common themes about community. Community has to be examined more carefully. If you have community, how much cash do you need? And who do we actually share with?

Community is about voluntary collaboration; it’s not about changing the tax code and forcing people to do something. It is about whom do we share with, whom do we actually collaborate with? When are we actually willing to hand over cash, time and assets to let people work with those resources as their own intelligence, talent and creativity allows?

But if community is voluntary cooperation, then how do we avoid the same racial and class lines seen in churches on Sunday? Whom do we cooperate with, hire for jobs, lend money to and give gifts to without strings attached? If community is the solution, then we need to learn how to cross community lines.

There can be absolutely no community if we continue to emphasize the otherness of those who do no share our appearance, education, beliefs or lifestyles. Community must be a unified thing, so finger pointing is a guaranteed path to failure. Community building means voluntary sharing and collaboration, not intentional regulation of the process through facilitation, but it does not mean the rest of the system cannot be shifted as a result of our learning the ability to do this kind of sharing.

Keep the Conversation Going
A lot of this comes down to points of view, the perspective gained by actually talking to strangers and connecting to people rather than having merely economic relationships with our fellow human beings. We need to have a national conversation on class and money, to keep the conversation going beyond the limits of our circle. It does not matter whether you are talking with one person or a large group of people, we need to find these human connections and keep bringing that to the group.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes! Keep the conversation going… please let the author know what you think about this piece. Add your comments below! Thank you!!]

The 2013 NDN public analysis phase begins


Submitted by John Spady: The 2013 National Dialogue Network (NDN) process has now entered “Cycle 4” of a five cycle process where our volunteer working group releases a preliminary graphic report of all responses received as of November 23, 2013 along with the underlying Excel spreadsheet used to create it.

Focusing on Cycle 4

(click to enlarge)

During this phase, the general public is strongly urged to help intrepret the results and submit any and all insights to the working group for review and inclusion in the final summary report that is due before the end of 2013.

I am asking readers of this post to make a small contribution of time to this public analysis phase. Click on both of the following links and just focus on what interests you. Try to understand “what the data is saying.” Then post a comment below with any insights that you are able to glean from the preliminary report.

If you want to see another type of cross tab or have any other questions either ask them below or leave a private comment at 800-369-2342.

Total number of participants who completed the national survey: 105

Preliminary report:

Final Excel data (XLS) download:

View 2013 NDN Participant Responses (105) in a full screen map

Thank you!
John Spady
Volunteer Coordinator for the National Dialogue Network


Demographics of 2013 NDN Opinionnaire® Survey


This is an experimental report showing just the current demographic tallies of the 2013 Opinionnaire® Survey’s completed so far. Values are expected to be automatically updated each day. Your comments are invited at the bottom of this post or can be left on the NDN message line at +1-800-369-2342. Thank you!

“We are all in this together” — contribute your opinions and insights to the Opinionnaire® Survey on Poverty & Wealth in America. Visit: to begin the survey.




Where’s the Opportunity?


Where is it?

Access to opportunity is seen by many as the solution to the increasing gap in annual income and compensations. A graphic, from page 25 of a presentation by the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, shows the growing pace of productivity (which implies growing consumption levels to absorb that productivity) and labor income provided (wages and compensation) to reward that productivity. For researchers at the Economic Policy Institute this growing “gap” between “real output and real compensation” is considered a major reason for the growing levels of economic inequality among Americans. The NDN Conversation Kit asks groups to consider this specific question.

Where are the opportunities emerging in your community?

How do you create opportunities for others in your family, church, or community?