Urban Dynamics Blog

Chicagoland: the reality of homicides, economic inequality, and lots of other things

By Matt Johnson

This past Sunday evening, 60 Minutes aired a segment about the exploding homicide rate during 2016 in Chicago. According to the Associated Press, there were 762 homicides in Chicago during 2016. The AP sourced that number from the Chicago Police Department. However, according to the Chicago Tribune, there were 779 homicides in 2016. And according to a less well-known source, heyjackass.com (Yeah. I know. The name. It’s still comprehensive. And they provide excellent sources.), there were 795 homicides in Chicago in 2016.

Please note: the differences in homicides are due to how they are counted.


Using the most liberal number, homicides were up by a little more than 56 percent from the previous year. In 2015, there were 509 homicides. And since 2009, there have been about 481 homicides per year, so obviously this was quite a jump.

This particular crime that 60 Minutes focused on illustrated only a component of the depressed systems where these homicides occurred. It ignored the reality of other socio-economic (SE) factors such as unemployment, education, and housing issues such as foreclosures and condemned and vacant buildings.

Thinking about crime along with other adverse SE factors is important because cities are complex systems that are constantly changing and they’re probabilistic (this means they are notoriously difficult to predict). Moreover, these adverse SEs (that’s what I call them) exist in the cities depressed sub-systems, i.e., wards and neighborhoods, where social systems such as economic systems, political systems, and cultural systems interact with each other.

If this seems complicated, that’s because it is.

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In the case where these homicides are pronounced, like the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, for example, unemployment, poverty, education levels and lack of access to, and housing issues are also pronounced.

For instance, over the past 12 months, Austin had 16,354 reported crimes. Of these 16,354 crimes, 83 were 1st and 2nd degree homicides (that’s about 11 percent of the total number of homicides in 2016), 2,264 were larceny, 81 were criminal sexual assault, 791 were motor vehicle theft, 847 were robbery, and 350 were prostitution.

Note: this is data from January 1, 2017 and the Chicago PD updates it daily. 

Of course, these aren’t all of the 16,354 reported crimes. But it gets the point across with respect to what the Austin residents experience in these depressed systems everyday. However, crime is just one component of this depressed sub-system, because again, these social systems interact with each other constantly, i.e., cultural systems, political systems, and economic systems.

According to West Side Forward, 30.8 percent of Austin’s population lived below the poverty line and 22.1 percent were unemployed in 2014. In addition, only 18.4 percent had a bachelor’s degree and above. In contrast, the unemployment rate for Chicago was 8.7 percent, the poverty rate was 22.7 percent, and 34.9 percent had a bachelor’s degree and above in 2014.

All of these socio-economic factors are important when considering the totality of the circumstances. This is how one can think about this issue systemically. And this is how policy makers ought to approach these adverse challenges.

Rather than just focusing on one issue at a time, they ought to address these adverse socio-economic factors as a set. That is, address homicides along with other crimes and socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, education, and housing.

One last thought, it easy for us to judge from the perspective of a liberal structuralist or a conservative behaviorist the recent abduction of the young man from the Chicago suburbs by the four teens from the West Side of Chicago. And of course, we shouldn’t tolerate such behavior from any of our kids, period. But perhaps we ought to consider the economic, political, and cultural circumstances from which this happened.

Again, there are no excuses but these four kids are from the West Side and Austin is one of those neighborhoods where the highest rates of crime and concentrations of crime, and of course the high unemployment and poverty rates amongst other things happen on a daily basis.

Homicides, economic inequality, and lots of other things are a reality, and it’s theirs.

Matt Johnson is a writer for The Systems Scientist and the Urban Dynamics blog; and is a mathematical scientist. He has also contributed to the Iowa State Daily and Our Black News.

You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook as well. 

Photo credit: Pixabay




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