Concentrated Disadvantage: The Influence of Social and Economic Change on the Epidemic of Youth Violence

Kevin Strom, Research Triangle Institute
John M. MacDonald, University of South Carolina

There was an epidemic of youth violence that peaked in the early 1990s. Explanations for this epidemic have focused predominately on period effects related to the introduction of crack-cocaine and the proliferation of high caliber firearms. Less research has examined whether changes in structural correlates of crime in inner cities also contributed to this epidemic. This paper examines how the change in city-level family disruption and joblessness, as well as illicit drug markets, contributed to race and age-specific changes in youth homicide between the 1980s and early 1990s in 155 large U.S. cities. The results show that increasing concentrations of black family instability and joblessness explained a significant portion of the rise in youth homicide, especially for blacks. These effects are independent of drug arrest rates, ethnic heterogeneity, region, and population density. Changes in drug arrest rates also substantially increases the rates of youth homicides for blacks and whites. These results suggest that the period effects of drugs and guns associated with the epidemic of youth violence stem from structural linkages to family disruption and economic deprivation experienced most pronoucedly in black communities.

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Updated 05/20/2006