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February 21, 2019

Poverty increases crime rate in urban areas

Suspected thug gunned down in Kibera. /FILE
Suspected thug gunned down in Kibera. /FILE

Crime exists everywhere in Kenya. As I write this, my family has not slept in peace since we were robbed at gunpoint by hooded young men.

Why would a young energetic man rob fellow Kenyans instead of getting meaningful employment?

In Kenya, crime is often perceived as a problem in areas with high poverty levels. This may be the case, but many other factors, such as unemployment, population density, minority population, age distribution and locality are correlated with crime and affect poverty.

When these factors are controlled for, how much does poverty affect crime? Knowing more accurately how poverty affects crime can help us know if focusing on poverty reduction can aid in crime reduction or if money and effort should go to other areas.

Poverty’s effects on crime can be explained through a variety of reasons. There is a higher rate of mental illness among the poor than the rich. Poverty can lead to high levels of stress, which in turn drive individuals to commit theft, robbery or other violent acts.

Moreover, poverty may lead to actual or perceived inferior education. Youth with less access to quality schools, jobs, and role models and opportunities end up spending time on the streets associating with gangs.

Crime offers a way in which impoverished people can obtain material goods they cannot attain through legitimate means. Often, threat or force helps them acquire even more goods, encouraging them to commit more violent acts such as robbery and rape.

For many impoverished people, the prize that crime yields may outweigh the risk of being caught. Thus, poverty increases crime rates.

However, many other factors influence crime and are correlated with poverty as well. High unemployment certainly increases poverty. It leads to more crime due to depression associated with being unemployed.

Personal income per capita, which is inversely correlated with poverty levels, increases crime since greater wealth means greater benefits to thieves and robbers.

Furthermore, because of social class gaps, personal income per capita rates affect poverty to a great extent (the income may be concentrated in a small percentage of the population). It might even accentuate the difference between the upper and lower classes, thereby inducing more crime.

Variations in the composition of population can affect crime in different ways. First, adolescents are often responsible for most crimes committed. The poor delinquent child is more likely to be expelled from school or have a police record than a well-to-do delinquent.

A higher percentage of inhabitants under the age of 25 may lead to higher crime rates. On the other hand, the elderly, because of their possessions and vulnerability, are believed to be more vulnerable to crime.

A disproportional number of minorities live in impoverished urban areas. Racism towards minorities can lead to lower wages and fewer jobs, resulting in higher poverty rates.

Of course, there are people who commit crime for the sake of crime. Usually this has something to with abusive childhoods or simply greed or some other stronger emotion, although on average, why would any person who is financially well off and has a good job commit a crime?

Managing partner, Watermark Consultants

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