How Poverty Correlates With an Increase in Gun Violence

There was an increase in firearm homicides across the United States from 2019 to 2020. Every region experienced increases. While firearm homicide is a complex phenomenon driven by multiple factors, researchers consistently find that it is associated with measures of economic hardship. This was again observed in the recent increase in firearm homicides.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows that the counties in the highest poverty category averaged a 3.1-point increase in their firearm homicide rate from 2019 to 2020. The counties in the lowest poverty category averaged only a 0.4-point increase. The counties in the intermediate poverty categories had increases between the counties with high and low poverty rates.

The recent research reflected in the figure only provides a simple correlation. Other research finds that the correlation between firearm homicides and poverty remains even after controlling for sex, age, race and ethnicity, urbanicity, and statewide firearm prevalence.

Research by sociologist Patrick Sharkey and his colleagues finds that community organizations dedicated to workforce development likely have had a causal impact on reducing homicide. If these organizations increased employment, then they probably also reduced poverty. Eliminating poverty will bring numerous social benefits to US society, and one of them might be a significant reduction in the country’s extremely high rate of gun violence.

This analysis 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.