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How Poverty Increases the Likelihood of Crime

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            Crime and poverty have been associated with one another all through out history. Factors inherent with poverty, like homelessness, lack of income and economic instability and inequality, exposes a person greatly to a tendency to commit crime. Correlation between poverty and crime has long since been establish, with a few minimal disputed issues on the matter.

It would be helpful however to classify which type of crime a poor individual is most likely to commit. Through this study, types of crimes can be classified along with the factors driving an individual to commit them. Benefits can be gained with better understanding of the relationship between crime and poverty.


            Crime has always been present in any society. It is believed that one of the driving forces that stimulate crime is the prevalence of poverty. Lack of access to resources and financial stability increase the likelihood of crime rate increase.

            Several studies have been conducted with the conclusive outcome blaming poverty as one of the major factors in high crime rate in certain areas. Locations with a high poverty rate along with its adjacent districts are reported to have a higher crime rate than those of other regions with lower poverty level (Polesovsky, 2004).

            Sociologists have looked into the relationship of crime and poverty since both have been a constant societal disruption throughout history. The link of crime to social inequality was derived due to prevalence of both encompassing different types of civilization and societies during different time eras. It is believed that crime and deviance from behavior set by social norms were not inherent to man but instead forced upon him due to factors caused by poverty and unequal social stratification (O’Connor, 2006).

            Persistent poverty has already been acknowledged as one of the factors affecting high rate of crime. Strategies being developed to address crime also include addressing poverty level alleviation and policies on social stratification (Currie, 1996).

Problem Statement

            Although majority of studies conducted on the determination of factors that affects crime rates, data garnered have always points to poverty as one of the factors highly affecting crime rate. This study aims to corroborate results determined in other research specifically poverty as a casual factor in crime.

            Studies have been conducted stipulating that one of the determinants of homicide and robbery were due to inequality in wages (Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza, 1998). Part of the results this research intends to determine is determining the stimulus brought by poverty that would compel an individual to be involved in criminal activities. To determine also the types of crime that involves poverty as the reason for them committing those crimes.


            What is poverty and how is it determined? This question is important since this study needs to define poverty. For this study’s purpose, Poverty is defined as a human condition characterized by deprivation, whether chronic or sustained, from resources, security, choices and capabilities that are necessary in the availment of adequate standard of living and other civil, economic, cultural and political rights of a person (“What is poverty?” 2002).

            Economic deprivation or more commonly termed, as lack of income is the usual definition given to poverty. This is determined by comparison of an individual’s income compared to what is set as the standard income depending on the country or region they are currently residing in.

            But income is not the only determining factor for poverty, they also include access to education, housing, social security and capabilities that would provide a better humane standard of living for the individual (“What is poverty?” 2002).

            Conditions brought by poverty leave its effect on the individual, physically, mentally and emotionally. The most affected by these effects are the children who are born into poverty (“Are children affected by their experience of poverty?” 2007).

            The most visible effect that poverty has is the effect on the health. Nutrition deficit due to lack in capability to buy nutritious food is clearly manifested by poor health and weak body. This is mostly evident in children belonging to poor families. Malnutrition and hunger is the most common effect of poverty on people. These families are also deprived from availing medical services during sickness and ailments.

            Poor housing facilities and use of substandard materials as their shelter provides little protection against weather conditions. They are also victims of lack of proper housing facilities like toilet and clean water. These make them vulnerable to diseases and outbreaks if an epidemic is active. Lack of proper security makes them also vulnerable to criminal elements if ever they would be targeted.

            One of the effects of poverty is being financially locked up in debt. With their meager income, once they engage in debt normally poor families have a hard time paying off their debt.  In most cases, poor families are locked up in a debt cycle where their meager income is used to pay-off their debt and in the process needs to borrow again just to survive with their basic needs.

            Lack of formal education is one of the effects experienced by those who belong to poor families. Though there may be government-sponsored education, usually children belonging to poor families only attain elementary level with a few percent attaining high school level. Lack of income to support other school needs, like books and daily allowance, would sometime force them to stop school and find work that would help finance their daily living.

            There are even reports that poverty is one of the factors causing mental disorders. Stress experienced due to effects of poverty is blamed for the high percentage of depression and anxiety disorders (Corbett, 2007). Some people attempts to relieve anxiety and stress through dependence in alcohol and drugs.

            Poverty is classified into two types, absolute and relative poverty. Absolute poverty is the state wherein a set of standards is universal and consistent across all countries. Standards that are set are pertaining to economic standards like average income and economic standing. Relative poverty pertains however to social factors. 

Causes of Poverty

            Poverty can be attributed to many factors. One among them is the environment that they live in or natural factors. Climate and harsh environment would sometimes bring about poverty. However, a land environmentally poor in resources would eventually produce poor people and deprivation from their basic needs such as food and water.

            Concept of money and labor employment system is another key factor for poverty. Money has always been used to determine wealth. Those who don’t have money have to work for it in order to get paid. Those who have little wealth or none at all would eventually be tagged as poor. Availability of jobs and economic opportunities also affects poverty level. There are many who are willing to work for their pay but are victim of labor deficit and economic limitations. Lack in employment opportunities often result to working for low compensation.

            Human factors also cause poverty. Wars which disrupt human industry and peaceful living often results to poverty. Damaged property is often times the result of war as well exhausting of natural resources. Crime on the other hand, often results to exchange of ownership of valuable property like money and valuable items. Corruption of government officials often results to having large number of people below the poverty line while a few people controlling resources and wealth.

            Over blowing of population, if not addressed immediately, would most often result to increase in poverty level. Having too many to share in limited resources would result to marginalization of those who cannot afford to buy basic services and commodities.

Crime and Poverty

            Sociologist and criminal experts have identified a direct correlation between crime and poverty (J. Williams, 2007). One theory states that people engage in crime only when the consequence far outweighs the benefits that they would potentially gain. Thus people belonging to the lower social strata are more likely to be tempted to engage in crimes specially those that involve theft, burglary and larceny (J. Williams, 2007).

            Drug dependence, however, provides a different picture to the poverty and crime model. It is considered as one of the factors related to crime or the results of poverty-induced depression. Study in Scotland indicates that, though drug abuse may not be directly due to poverty, there is large percent of poverty stricken areas that are involved in drug, directly or indirectly (Shaw, Egan, & Morag Gillespie, 2007). Factors like low income, inequality and housing deprivations lead these people to be involved in drugs and crime. Several scenarios have been cited in the drug-poverty-crime cycle.

            Drug use leads to crime. Here drug dependents are involved in criminal activities in order for them to supplement their addiction. Though not all marginalized people are drug dependents, however social factors, stress, depression as well as their vulnerability puts them at risk of being a drug dependent or linked to drugs.

            Crime leads to drugs. Criminals are most likely to be related to drugs, whether as dependents or as traffickers. Drug markets have been reported to concentrate on deprived areas. Most poverty stricken areas rely on drug trafficking as their source of income compared to the low-income rate from regular jobs in the vicinity.

Crime and drugs are interrelated to other social factors such as poverty. Social disparity and inequality tend to affect the rising rate of drug dependence and crime rate. Employment problems for drug dependents have also been one of the factors restricting them from liberation from the cycle of drug and crime.

Unequal distribution of wealth has always been blamed for the tendencies of poor and marginalized people to be tempted to undertake criminal activities. But crime has many factors and poverty, along with its subsequent effects, is one of the major factors directly affecting crime rate.

Review of Literature

It was stated in the report, conducted by Scottish Drugs Forum dated March 2007 (Shaw, Egan, & Morag Gillespie, 2007), that poverty, drugs and crime are inter-related. Several factors have been associated with the proliferation of crime, poverty and drug dependency have been sited among them. The report also reviewed the involvement of poverty stricken community and its effect on crime and drug related problems. It is notable however; that this report highlighted one of the problems that people from below poverty line generally experience and that is difficulty in employability. With a drug dependency history or criminal records, based on the report difficulties on finding employment would sometimes force them back into a life of crime or dwindle into drug or alcohol dependency problem. The report was submitted to review policies and its implication. It also stated recommendations for new policies to be implemented and take into consideration factors like drug dependencies, crime, poverty communities and poverty per se.

 Research conducted by Kirk Williams disputes the correlation between poverty and homicide. He stated in his study that there were contradicting data that would dispute the findings of previous study pointing to poverty as the main factor for homicide cases (K. R. Williams, 1984). Williams reviewed 2 studies that resulted in poverty having no positive association with homicide cases.

Joong-Hwan Oh, a sociologist from Hunter College, New York conducted a study focusing on the effects of poverty to crime rate on areas within central cities in the United States (Oh, 2005). The study states that urban economic decline is a factor aggravates social disorganization. It also constitute to the increase in crime rates in central cities. In the study it was shown that a decline in employment in manufacturing resulted to increase in three types of crime namely: aggravated assault, larceny and burglary. A rise in poverty level indicated a rise also in crime rats for rape and larceny. On the other hand, increase in suburban employment growth indicated a decrease in violent crimes.

Currie discussed, on the other hand, on his article the concept of persistent poverty and how it affect crime rate. This is a revised article on the topic of persistent poverty. Persistent poverty is defined as the capability of an individual to escape from poverty on the next year. If he has few opportunities to change his economic status then other means, usually through crime, are employed to alleviate him from poverty. The article focused more on the concept of persistent poverty and employment related factors affecting poverty levels (Currie, 1996). Inadequate labor opportunities and those belonging to a lower income bracket have a tendency to be compelled to commit crime. Anti crime policies should take into consideration policies that would address labor related issues and in effect minimize crime rates. These should also include other factors affected by poverty like education, housing and health.

A study conducted by the Kirwan Institute in Ohio indicates that crime rates vary according to the locale and district (Polesovsky, 2004). Key factors that should be taken into consideration are the concentration of poverty stricken families living in the community and delineation and segregation of economic classes and the stigma associated with being included below the poverty line. According to the study a concentration of poverty in one area would invite crime and its subsequent increase. Strategies and proposals have been provided to counteract the tendency for crime to propagate in the area.

An experiment conducted by Federal Government of USA yielded to positive results (Goering, 2003). The experiment involved the relocation of 4,608 families through a Federal Government supported program. The Moving to Opportunity or MTO program intends to analyze the fact of concentrated poverty and its subsequent effect especially to children. The experiment involved relocated the families into different areas and studying the results. One of the results garnered was that those relocated into better communities did better than those in areas with a high concentration of families below poverty line. There were fewer crimes reported on better communities. The MTO was an experiment to determine whether a place-based approach is better than that of a person-based approach to addressing poverty redevelopment and change the lives of those under the program.

Several studies conducted intends to determine whether poverty as a factor affecting crime rate is prevalent globally (Fajnzylber, Lederman, & Loayza, 1998). Fajnzylber, Lederman and Loayza’s research tried to determine the factors causing violent crimes and whether poverty plays a vital role as its determinant. The results show that an increase in the inequality of income also increase incidence of crime. This has been evident in their research of other countries social condition. A social disparity has been one of the factors that significantly increased the crime rate.

Joseph Williams, president of Christian Association of Prison Aftercare, have seen first hand the effect of poverty in the rise of crime level. In the state of Michigan in Detroit City, he has seen the increase in crime rates together with the decline in standard of living of the community. According to him nearly 53% of those in prison are below the poverty line (J. Williams, 2007). His paper is concern about the increasing rate in crime and that his ministry might not be able to accommodate the increasing number of prisoners. Their work is involved in the reintegration of former prisoners into society and to be a productive member once again with the establishment of satisfying employment and well-being.

Dr. Tom O’Connor, a professor in Criminology for North Carolina Wesleyan College, discussed the relationships of poverty, inequality and crime (O’Connor, 2006). In his lecture, he stated that poverty has been one of the factors associated with crime due to its persistent nature. Crime and poverty has always been present throughout history. Social stratification has evidently led to difference in economic standing and inequality in access to resources and income. O’Connor discussed the difference between poverty and inequality with the former defined as a deprivation of essential material needs for survival while the latter as just simply a comparison of economic status or material property between individuals or social class.

Criminologists have always looked upon poverty as one of the factors in relation to crime. Crime is perceived to be the after effect in economic disparity and changes. With inequality come many social problems that people are exposed to. Unemployment plays out a major role in crime rate trends. Having no access to industry and no control in wealth distribution people tend to revert to the easiest means, which is through crime.  Concentration of poverty in cities was discussed citing different key locations considered to be poverty concentration areas. These normally consist of groups of people having the same economic status, with the same ethnic origins.

Patterson, an assistant professor in the Criminology department in Florida State University, differentiated absolute poverty and relative poverty. He described the two types with subsequent crimes brought about by each (Patterson, 1991). The study intended to compare between absolute poverty and relative poverty. Data garnered from the research indicated that absolute poverty yielded a higher association for neighborhood crime rates than those who belong to the relative poverty group.


            Primary data would be obtained through interview of sample respondents. Respondents are defined as those who have criminal records and were considered as belonging to poverty strata. Confidentiality would be exercised.

            The data that would be gathered would revolve around the social condition that they were in. What was their income level during that time and did they have pressing need for money. What work were they engaged in before resulting to criminal activity? The status and condition of their family would also be looked at.

            Key points to be considered in the interview would be the determining factors why they engaged in crime. What prompted them to be involved in criminal activities? Was it brought about by poverty? Where they given a choice in their decision?

            A geographical analysis would also be determined. The place of residence of indicted criminals would be mapped. Determining whether those involved in crime usually reside in poverty areas is important for this research. And it would be helpful also consider the whether the actual scene of the crime is spatially located in poor areas with comparison of data with those of non-slum areas. These factors would be helpful in determining safety conditions in slum areas and as well as other areas to determine whether a location has a high crime incidence rate.


Poverty and crime are interlinked with one directly affecting the other. With numerous studies conducted directly associating poverty with crime rate, it is however helpful to determine the types of crime that are commonly being committed by those offenders belonging to the marginalized poor. This research intends to classify specific types of crimes that are prevalent and frequently associated with poverty.

It would be beneficial to understand what type of criminal activity they are more likely to undertake. To determine the factors that would trigger an individual to break the law would be helpful in the fight against crime. Policies on prevention and protection against offenders can be cooked up with the help of data gathered from these studies.

This research intends to have a better understanding of the motivational factors that poor people experience. To address those social, emotional and mental needs in order to come up with programs that would help target the decrease in crime rate by addressing needs brought about by poverty.


Are children affected by their experience of poverty? (2007). Effects of poverty Retrieved 21 October, 2007, from http://www.endchildpovertycymru.org.uk/areasofwork/childpoverty/endchildpovertynetwork/2156/2160/index.html

Corbett, T. J. (2007). Effects of Poverty.   Retrieved 20 October, 2007, from http://encarta.msn.com/text_761577020___122/Poverty.html

Currie, E. (1996). Missing pieces: Notes on crime, poverty, and social policy. Critical Criminology, Volume 7(March ), 37-52.

Fajnzylber, P., Lederman, D., & Loayza, N. (1998, 13 September). What causes violent crime?   Retrieved 21 October 2007, from http://www1.worldbank.org/prem/poverty/inequal/abstracts/violence.htm

Goering, J. (2003). Place-Based Poverty, Social Experimentation, and Child Outcomes: A Report of Mixed Effects. Children, Youth and Environments Volume 13(Issue 2).

O’Connor, T. (2006, 2 February ). POVERTY, INEQUALITY, AND CRIME.   Retrieved 20 October, 2007, from http://faculty.ncwc.edu/TOCONNOR/301/301lect07.htm

Oh, J.-H. (2005). Social disorganizations and crime rates in U.S. central cities: Toward an explanation of urban economic change The Social Science Journal Volume 42( Issue 4), 569-582

Patterson, E. B. (1991). Poverty, Icome Iinequality, and Community Crime Rates. Criminology, Volume 29(Issue 4), Page 755-776.

Polesovsky, J. (2004). High crime rate, poverty linked.   Retrieved 20 October, 2007, from http://media.www.thelantern.com/media/storage/paper333/news/2004/02/13/Campus/High-Crime.Rate.Poverty.Linked-607157.shtml

Shaw, A., Egan, J., & Morag Gillespie. (2007). Drugs and poverty: A literature review: Scottish Drug Forum.

What is poverty? (2002).   Retrieved 21 October, 2007, from http://www.unhchr.ch/development/poverty-02.html

Williams, J. (2007). Poverty and Crime Retrieved 20 October, 2007, from http://capaassociation.org/newsletter_N009/Articles/PovertyCrime.htm

Williams, K. R. (1984). Economic Sources of Homicide: Reestimating the Effects of Poverty and Inequality American Sociological Review, Vol. 49, No 2(April), pp. 283-289.

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