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Justice

Violent Crime's Toll on Economic Mobility

A new study shows just how much growing up in a violent neighborhood can harm an individual’s economic prospects later in life.
Rikers Island Prison Complex with the Manhattan skyline in the background
Rikers Island Prison Complex with the Manhattan skyline in the backgroundSeth Wenig/AP

The sad fact is that American kids today may be the first generation who do not eclipse their parents’ economic status. In fact, Americans occupy two separate worlds when it comes to moving up the economic ladder. A small minority of us, anywhere from a fifth to a third who come from advantaged backgrounds, can expect economic mobility on par with any advanced nation. But, tragically, anywhere from two-thirds to 80 percent of Americans who are in less advantaged situations will see their economic prospects be as limited as those in the developing world. And it’s not just our parents’ income level that accounts for this; the place we grow up in plays a huge role in our ability to move up the economic ladder, as the pioneering research of Raj Chetty and his collaborators has shown.

A new study published in the Journal of Urban Economics sheds light on an additional factor that may be to blame for the two worlds of economic mobility. The study by NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey, one of the world’s leading scholars of crime and poverty, and NYU doctoral student Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, argues that violent crime has played a significant role in the very different chances at economic mobility facing people from advantaged versus disadvantaged communities.