26 Poverty and Crime Statistics

Here’s a harsh reality: in the United States, the problem is black on black crime. It’s not Latino on Latino crime. It’s not even black on white or white on black crime. We’ve focused on racial statistics, but the truth that comes from the data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics is that the United States is dealing with a poor on poor wave of crime.

These poverty and crime statistics prove that when the standard of living is depressed, the individuals living in poverty see the benefits of committing a crime to meet their basic needs is worth the risk of getting caught. And, when severe poverty is considered, there is a direct correlation to a rise in violent crime.

This is because people in the poorest of conditions are desperate. With desperation comes a willingness to survive.

What Poverty and Crime Statistics Look Like in the United States

  • People living in households in the US that have an income level below the Federal poverty threshold have more than double the rates of violent victimization compared to individuals in high-income households.
  • Individuals who live in poverty are more likely to report a crime than those who do not live in poverty, but more than half of all crime is believed to go unreported to local law enforcement.
  • When people live in households that are struggling with poverty, they also have a higher rate of violence that involves a firearm at 3.5 per 1,000 people compared to 0.8-2.5 per 1,000 people in middle-to-high income families.
  • For both whites and blacks/African-Americans in the US, the overall pattern of being in poverty with the highest rates of victimization was consistent. For Hispanics and Latinos, violent victimization is relatively equal across all income levels.
  • Hispanics in the US who are living in poverty have nearly half the rates of violent victimization when compared to poor whites. Even poor blacks/African-Americans have a lower rate of violent victimization in poverty compared to whites.
  • Urban poverty increased the risks of violence and crime for US households, but did not change the racial risk factors. Whites are the most at risk in an urban poverty household to experience crime, at a rate of 5.64%. Blacks/African-Americans had the second highest level of risk for experiencing crime in urban poverty at 5.13%.

When looking at the overall correlation between poverty and crime, there are some facts that jump out. For example: when someone receives more education, they are less likely to commit a crime and are more likely to earn a living wage. On the other end of the spectrum, it also shows that urban white households in poverty are more at risk than any other group when it comes to experiencing crime.

This is probably a shift in what many tend to think about when they picture crime in the United States. Yet when it comes to violent crime, which is most likely to occur from a poverty standpoint, there were fewer victims of violent crime in the US than people who died from accidental poisoning. More people died from accidental falls than from violent crime.

And, if you take violent crime from a purely white perspective, more white people are killed by accidental drownings then they are from black on white violent crime.

What does this mean? That there is a direct correlation between socioeconomic status in the United States and experiencing a risk of violent crime.

Is There a Correlation Between Crime and Youth Living in Poverty?

  • The 16-24 age demographic has experienced the highest unemployment rates and the highest increases in unemployment since 2008. In some areas, unemployment in this age demographic exceeded 20%. Nearly one-third of this demographic lives in poverty and are the most likely to commit crime and become the victim of crime.
  • Some groups in the US are impacted by poverty at much higher rates. Although, on average, 14% of households are below the poverty thresholds, it is the American Indians at 27% which have the highest risks of poverty. Asians have the lowest risks of poverty, with fewer than 12% of households falling into this category.
  • Despite increases in poverty, data released by the National Juvenile Justice Network shows that youth arrests for violent crime are falling, following a 20-year pattern of reduction for robbery, aggravated assault, and similar crime.
  • On average, America’s youth were involved in 25% of all serious violent victimizations that do not include murder for all crime committed annually.
  • About 2.5 million youth are arrested on an annual basis, with the most common crime being larceny-theft.
  • Since 1980, juvenile arrest rates for property crimes have remained relatively stable.
  • Black/African-American juveniles are held in residential custody in the US at five times the rate for whites and twice the rate of Hispanics and Latinos.
  • 40% of offenders in residential placement facilities in the US are black/African-American, with 37.5% white. 86% of placed offenders are male.

When comparing the overall crime rates from a poverty point of a view to the incarceration rates that take place, there is clearly a racial disparity in place. More whites commit and experience crime, yet from a youth standpoint, where a majority of poverty-related crime occurs, more blacks/African-Americans are committed.

For this reason, it is easy to see why many discuss US crime rates from a “black on black” perspective. Yet, if a “poor on poor” perspective is taken instead, one fact becomes increasingly clear: minority households that are living in poverty are held to a higher standard than white households living in poverty.


Does a Lack of Resources Because of Poverty Affect Crime?

  • More than 42 million US adults currently live in households that are defined as being “food insecure.” This includes more than 13 million American children.
  • In 2014, the poverty rate in the United States was 2.3% higher than in 2007, the year before the Great Recession occurred.
  • For more than 4 years, the number of households in poverty has either remained stable or grown in the US while global poverty numbers have been trending downward. 18 developed countries were able to cut their poverty rates during the same 2007-2014 period when the US saw an increase in poverty.
  • About 1 in 5 children in the US are unable to receive an adequate level of nutrition and this is directly attributed to the issue of poverty within the country.
  • Women at 16% are more likely to live in poverty in the United States compared to men, at 13%. The poverty rate for married couples in the US is just 6%, but for single-parent families run by men, the rate is 16%.
  • For single mothers in the US, the poverty rate is 31%.
  • Poverty in the United States is often seen as an urban issue, especially with the higher crime rates that are associated with poor urban living. The only problem is that 17% of suburban or rural households are living in poverty today, compared to 15% of urban households living in poverty.
  • The US poverty rate for individuals with a disability is currently at 29%.
  • For a family of four in the United States, the poverty threshold hovers around $24,000. Each additional household member adds $5,000 to the poverty threshold, with the exception of going from a household of 5 to a household of 6, which adds just $3,000 to the threshold. About 7% of the US population, or more than 20 million people, live with an income that is 50% of the current poverty threshold. This is defined as “deep poverty.”
  • Another 33% of the US population live close to the poverty threshold, which is defined as having an income which is less than two times their poverty threshold. So, for a household of 6, living close to poverty would be defined as having a household income of $64,000 or less.
  • About 1.6 million children experience homelessness during the year.
  • More than 31 million children are benefiting from low- or no-cost meals that are offered through the National School Lunch Program.

When asked about poverty, the US is one of the few countries in the world that believes poverty rates are going up – they’re not. Global poverty has been cut in half over the last 30 years. Yet in the US, poverty rates have gone up and this has changed the perspective of many Americans. Poverty certain looks different in the US, since many in poverty still qualify as a top 1% earner for total income on a global scale, but that doesn’t mean the effects of poverty are different.

The poverty and crime statistics prove that when people can meet their basic needs and have access to health services, then their standard of living improves. When jobs with livable wages are offered, people are more likely to meet their needs through legitimate means.

It is only when the relief from poverty outweighs the risks of being caught do spikes in crime occur. This proves that from a US perspective that what we have is a poor on poor crime problem that needs to be addressed.


Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.