Debates about causes of crime have been raging on and they revolve around economic models of causation that deal with the utility of crime. These debates make powerful connections between social and economic structure and the prevalence of crime (Neubeck 67). Therefore poverty has been regarded as multiple causative factors for crime because it’s founded on economic, social, and cultural structures of the society. The relationship between crime and poverty focuses on two main premises which are economic inequality and social stratification. Economic growth and development in many countries are not balanced and this ends up creating classes in the society. This social and economic inequality leads to relative deprivation and social exclusion of the lower classes creating higher levels of poverty. Higher levels of poverty and social inequality are directly proportional to higher levels of crime in society.
Crime versus Poverty/Low income
How are poverty and low-income levels related to the rise of poverty in society? Imbalanced economic development in the society creates social classes meaning that in the society, there are people of higher social standing and people of lower social standing. The standing of people in society is determined by their income levels. People with lower social standing are usually poor and are not exposed to many economic opportunities that can boost their levels of income. These people have very few prospects in life because they are born in disadvantaged positions meaning that their chances of succeeding in life are very limited. Their chances of succeeding using legitimate ways like the middle and the upper classes are limited and that is why they turn to crime because it is the only way out of their desperate situation. The other explanation is that poor people have what is called the
culture of poverty meaning that they do not have the values and attitudes that can make them succeed in legitimate economic areas. Culture of poverty inculcates into the poor people values and attitudes that can help them to succeed easily in illegitimate areas (Drake 56). Using this theory of culture of poverty, it is therefore evident that the poor people rarely think about genuine means of survival and crime is their easiest option. Thirdly, there are social factors that explain the relationship between poverty and crime. Poor people with low income live in poorer surroundings. There are more criminals in these neighbourhoods than in wealthier neighbourhoods meaning that these poor people see more criminals and criminal activities in their day to day life and they become desensitized to crime. This desensitization makes them more vulnerable to criminal influence and they are more likely to commit crime than people who live in wealthier neighbourhoods and are not exposed to criminal activities.
Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory versus Crime
There is one theory that can help to explain the relationship between poverty/ low income and crime. This theory is the conflict theory advanced by Karl Marx in the nineteenth century and this theory focuses on the dynamic tensions between different social classes. According to Marx, conflicts determine many social outcomes in the society (Neubeck 46). According to this theory, there is a stiff competition for the limited resources in the society which means that people in the society generally compete instead of interacting. When the lower and the upper social classes compete, a social change must be felt. People who are born in wealthier settings are exposed to better economic prospects than the people who are born in poorer settings. The two sets of people are competing for the same resources and if we invoke the social Darwinism theory fronted by Charles Darwin into the Conflict theory, it is evident that the struggle for survival produces competition. Since the upper classes are exposed to legitimate means of survival or have the value and attitudes to survive legitimately, they are always at an economic and social advantage. The low class people do not have access to legitimate means of survival because the upper class has already blocked them from these legitimate means of survival (Neubeck 90). This creates a conflict between the upper and the lower classes which leads to the members of the lower classes devising methods that will enhance their chances of survival and these methods are usually not legitimate.
Simply put, the conflict between the lower and the upper classes as they compete for economic resources makes members of the lower class to devise illegitimate means of survival. Since members of the upper class have blocked them to legitimate means of survival they resort to crime in the society. This means that poor people are more inclined to commit crime than wealthier people because crime guarantees them a means of survival. Crime ends up becoming a culture among the poor in the society because future generations that are born into these criminal settings adopt crime as a way of life and not necessarily as a means of survival.
The social conflict theory advanced by Karl Marx also accounts for the oppressive power and social structure. For example, United States of America has a long history of oppression and discrimination especially on racial and class lines. Success in many societies including United States of America is usually measured in terms of money and power and the social and power structure in these societies usually prevents the minorities from climbing up the social and economic ladder. The minorities and the lower class are denied the chance to get decent education, are relegated to lower calibre jobs with lower incomes and are blocked from various economic opportunities. One does not expect these oppressed groups to sit back and stay in the positions that the social and economic structure has relegated them to. They must hit back at their oppressors and this is the genesis of the social conflict that begets crime. They must overcome discrimination and oppression and they do not use legitimate methods to overcome oppressive and discriminative structures; they resort to illegitimate methods like crime and violence. According to the conflict theory advanced by Karl Marx, crime is not only a tool of survival used by the marginalised in the society, it is also a weapon used by the marginalised low class communities to hit back at the discriminative and oppressive social and economic structures that have denied them the chance to compete favourably for the economic opportunities available in the society.
The question that this paper is going to address is whether there is a correlation between poverty levels and crime and whether unfair social and economic structures have en effect on the rampant crime in the society.
This research obtained data from poor inhabitants of Harlem which is one of the most crime prone areas of United States of America. The research used interview and questionnaire method to collect data for a period of seven days and a sample population of about 200 people was covered. 145 people were interviewed while the rest filled questionnaires. The questionnaire and interview questions addressed issues to do with income levels, the number of times the respondents have involved themselves in criminal activities and what motivates their criminal behavior.
According to the data gathered during the research, it was evident that economic inequalities are the main causes of crime in the society. 75 percent of the respondents said that they engaged in crime because they have been economically marginalized and crime seems to be the only way out of the economic mess. 10 percent of the respondents said that they were born into crime and to them; crime is a culture while the rest said they engaged in criminal activities to hit back at the social and economic structures that have condemned them to a life of poverty.
The Harlem neighbourhood has a unique structure that makes it makes it a crime zone and this social structure represents the social structures of all the crime ravaged zones across the world. To start with, people in this area are economically disadvantaged and marginalised. They do not receive decent education which inculcates values and attitudes that can enable them to make mature decisions and judgements. That is why crime to them is a very easy option. Secondly, poverty has been said to be the mother of all evils and the people of poor zones like Harlem consider crime as a career that can easily enhance their survival. Finally, these people who have been neglected by the society usually disregard social order and crime is a way of manifesting their anger towards the society that has marginalised and oppressed them. To them, crime is a way of challenging the unfair society that has denied them access to economic opportunities and condemned them to a life of poverty and suffering (Drake 78). In conclusion, there is a very strong connection between crime and poverty/low income that can be easily explained by the conflict theory advanced by Karl Marx.
Drake, Bernard. Understanding the relationship between neighborhood poverty and crime.Oxford: OUP, 2010.
Neubeck, Kenneth.Sociology: Diversity, conflict, and change .NJ: Pearson, 2006.