A key purpose of this blog is to present the easily available data and statistics that show progressive myths -- particularly myths about the efficacy of government spending and programs -- to be false. But some of those myths just seem so intuitively obvious that they can't possibly be wrong! Or can they?
On Friday, Gabrielle Gurney in the American Prospect (even more progressive than the New York Times!) took up some of the top obviously false pieties of the progressive cause in an article headlined "It's the Poverty, Stupid, Not Trump's Imagined Carnage." I already discussed the question of whether the "carnage" in Democrat-controlled American cities is real or imagined in this post last week. But Ms. Gurney now seeks to take the "imagined carnage" theme in a different direction by arguing that even if there might be some excessive crime in a few places, the solution is more government spending to address the underlying problem of poverty:
Most municipal leaders understand that crime reduction hinges on addressing multiple underlying economic factors like poverty, which requires dollars and innovative strategies, not beatdowns. Chicago officials want more federal funding for education, economic development, and gun control, not the National Guard.
I mean, what could be more obvious than that crime increases with the rate of poverty, and therefore the most effective way to reduce crime must be through reduction in the rate of poverty? And what could be even more obvious than that "more money" for government "anti-poverty" programs is the way to reduce poverty? Indeed, these things are so obvious that if you don't believe them you have earned the sobriquet "stupid" from Ms. Gurney. But before you buy into Ms. Gurney's thesis because you don't want to be called "stupid," perhaps you should consider some easily-available data about New York City that may point to an opposite conclusion.
First, consider the question of whether government "anti-poverty" spending actually decreases measured poverty. I have covered this issue multiple times at this blog (see posts collected under my Poverty tag) and won't repeat all those things in this post. Suffice it to say that nationally, the War on Poverty began in 1965 with little-to-no "anti-poverty" spending and a measured poverty rate of about 15.5%; and 50 years later governments were spending about $1 trillion per year on "anti-poverty" spending, and the measured poverty rate was still 15.5%.
But the results of "anti-poverty" spending in New York City have been far, far worse. The first decennial census after the War on Poverty began was in 1970, when big "anti-poverty" spending was just getting going. An article by Levitan and Wieler for the New York Federal Reserve Bank collects poverty statistics for New York City for the three decades from then to 2000. New York City's measured poverty rate in the 1970 census was 14.5%, about in line with the national norm. Progressive icon John Lindsay had just been elected mayor, and began to implement the Cloward/Piven program of vastly increased welfare spending as the solution to poverty. Ten years later, in the 1980 census, the measured poverty rate in New York City was -- 20.2%, about a 40% increase from 1970's rate. That's about half a million more people in poverty than before government started to meddle. Good work, guys! In 1990 the City's poverty rate had dipped a little to 18.8%, but by 2000 it was back up to 21.9%. The most recent poverty rate for New York City from the Census Bureau is 20.6% (2015). So it's not just that all the "anti-poverty" spending in New York hasn't made a dent in the poverty; it's that poverty has actually gone up some 40% from where it started, in the face of ever-increasing spending. And all the new and "innovative" programs and spending over the years have never, ever, ever gotten the poverty rate to head back to anywhere even near where it started.
And how has crime in New York City correlated with the poverty rate? From 1970 to 1990, crime increased along with the poverty rate, seeming to validate the poverty-causes-crime hypothesis. But then, something went haywire. In 1990, when the poverty rate was 18.8%, the number of murders was 2245 (per data from the New York Police Department here). That gave New York a murder rate of about 28 per 100,000 -- about the same as Chicago's rate today. But then in came Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and new policing strategies; and he was followed by another kind-of Republican, Mike Bloomberg. By 2010, when the poverty rate had increased to 20.1%, the number of murders had declined spectacularly by about 75% to 536. Since 2010, the poverty rate (collected by a different method in between decennial surveys) has inched up to 20.6%; but the murder rate has continued its precipitous decline, reaching a low of 334 in 2016. Our murder rate is now less than 4 per 100,000. Trends for other crimes have been roughly comparable to the trends for murders. (I like to focus on murders because the numbers are much less subject to influence by subjective judgment than the numbers for other crimes.)
Can anybody look at these numbers and continue to believe that spending taxpayer money on government programs supposedly designed to reduce poverty has anything to do with the level of crime? Well, there's the American Prospect. And they are far from alone among progressives.