The Link Between Gun Violence and Economic Hardship in Black Communities

With the spike in murders across the nation, many Americans have become more concerned about gun violence. While the increase in gun violence is worrying, it is important to be aware that even before the recent spike, the US suffered from a very high rate of gun violence relative to other rich countries. For example, in 2019, the US homicide rate from firearms was more than eight times the rate in Canada, more than 50 times the rate in Germany, and more than 100 times the rate in the United Kingdom.

As bad as the problem of gun violence is for people in the US generally, it is intensified in Black communities. In 2019, Black males between 15 and 34 years old were only two percent of the population, but 37 percent of gun homicide victims. Among racial and gender groups, homicide ranks highest as a cause of death for Black males—their fifth leading cause of mortality—and close to 80 percent of homicidesare committed with firearms.

Gun violence is a complex issue with multiple causes. One important factor driving gun violence is economic hardship. A substantial body of criminological research finds that poverty is a powerful predictor of homicide rates. The figure illustrates this relationship at the state level for Black communities. In states where Black households are experiencing greater economic hardship, we find higher rates of gun violence.

If the US wants to reduce gun violence, it is important that to address the profound jobs crisis among Black men. We also need to combat racial discrimination in the labor market, and raise the federal minimum wage. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all that needs to be done to have a gun violence rate more like other rich countries, but it is a good place to start.

This column first appeared on CEPR.

Algernon Austin, a senior research fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has conducted research and writing on issues of race and racial inequality for over 20 years. His primary focus has been on the intersection of race and the economy.