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The Latest on Homicide Rates

Steven D. Levitt 31 December 2008 One Comment

Nothing grabs headlines like dire warnings about homicide trends. The New York Times writes: “Homicides by Black Teenagers Rise, Bucking a Trend.”

The numbers in The New York Times graphic and most of the James Alan Fox report fail to control for the change in the population of young black males over this time period.

According to U.S. Census data, the number of blacks aged 15 to 19 rose by about 15 percent between 2000 and 2007.

So even if any individual black teen’s propensity for crime was unchanged over this time period, the aggregate amount of black-teen crime would have risen by 15 percent. In other words, in that New York Times graphic on perpetrators, just based on changes in population, the number of perpetrators would have been expected to rise from a little over 800 to nearly 1,000. Knowing that, the actual rise to roughly 1,150 doesn’t seem that noteworthy.

One Comment »

  • John Powers (author) said:

    I don’t buy it…so murder is up a normalized 15% and were supposed to be content with it? What is the actual percent rise that constitutes a problem? 20%? 30%?

    Perhaps public policy should accomplish an actual reduction in murder rates before Levitt tells us there is nothing to worry about.


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