U.S. out of line among developed nations in portion of population imprisoned

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Minnesota is 49th among the 50 states in incarceration rate.

The United States is way out of line with the rest of the developed world in the portion of the population that is incarcerated, sociologist Christopher Uggen said at a forum Wednesday night at the University of Minnesota.

And it will be of little surprise that the disproportion is significantly different when separated by race.

Many of the most developed nations in the world, such as Japan or in Western Europe, about 50 people out of every 100,000 of population are incarcerated. The gloabl average for all nations is 144 for each 100,000 of population. The U.S. figure of 716 per 100,000 is about five time higher than the world average and more than ten times higher than other wealthy nations.

But the U.S. incarceration rate breaks down to 400 out of every 100,000 white Americans and 2,000 per 100,000 for blacks, Uggen said.

In Minneapolis, he said, the annual arrest rate is 227 out of every 1,000 blacks in the population. The white arrest rate is about one tenth of that.

The good news is that both the crime rate and the incarceration rate are declining in the United States, although the crime rate is falling much faster, he said. The U.S. crime rate has fallen by half over the past 20 years. The rate of what Uggen calls “mass incarceration” is still very high after rising for 40 years has leveled off and now appears to be starting to decline.

Minnesota is 49th among the 50 states in incarceration rate, Uggen said. But Minnesota is above average in the number of its citizens who are on probation or parole or otherwise under the supervision of the criminal justice system, Uggen said.

While being out on probation may be much preferable to being in prison, his research shows that being in “supervision” very seriously undermines the chances of getting a job, getting an apartment, receiving public assistance or voting.

Uggen made reference to his own run-ins with the law as a young man, but said that because of “just and humane discretion” on the part of the authorities, his path to success in life had not been cut off. He expressed hope that similar humane discretion can be shown to more youths who get arrested.

Uggen is the Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota and is leading scholar on the intersection of crime and sociology and especially on the disfranchisement of felons.

Also on the panel was Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro, whose pre-judicial work was as a public defender, including a stint as chief public defender in Hennepin County.

Unlike Uggen, Castro did not come armed with statistics, so he told anecdotes that captured some of the vagaries of arrests and sentences. For example, he compared two recent cases, one in which a drunk driver caused an accident that led to four deaths, and another in which a man was convicted of selling 10 grams of cocaine. The driver was sentenced to 48 months in prison; the drug pusher got 86 months. Looking at the impact of the two crimes, he wondered, “How do we make those decisions?”

He told of Somali-American juror he met recently who told him that he used to get pulled over by police frequently until he got rid of his ratty old car and bought a much nicer new one. The police incidents stopped.

The panel was moderated by KARE-TV reporter John Croman, who mused about the politics of crime and punishment. “You never hear anyone at the Legislature saying ‘I want to make sentences shorter for this crime or that one,’” he said. The political incentive is all to make sentences longer.

The event, titled “Get Smart on Crime: New Directions in America’s Incarceration Policy,” and subtitled “After Ferguson — Building Trust between the criminal justice system and communities of color,” was put on by the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

Note: The comparison of U.S. incarceration rates with the global average and with other developed nations has been revised from an earlier version of this post to clarify and add some data that Uggen supplied later Thursday.

Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Colin Brownlow on 12/11/2014 - 03:37 pm.

    Are you quite sure of your numbers?

    Eric – did you make a typo on the Minnesota arrest rate numbers? That’s a 22.7% annual arrest rate for blacks and 2.2 % annual rate for whites. Those seem like incredibly high numbers. Rather than the 227 arrests per 1,000 that you report, might that actually be 227 arrests per 100,000?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/11/2014 - 04:21 pm.

      That number sounds correct

      If not right.

      I can’t find the figures for the entire state, but USA Today analyzed local arrest records across the country. In Minneapolis, the arrest rate for whites was 73.8 per thousand, and 480.3 per thousand for blacks.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/11/2014 - 03:59 pm.

    Another factor

    contributing to the number of people incarcerated is sentence length, which is also longer in the United States than it is in other developed (or more civilized, if you wish) nations.

  3. Submitted by Eric Black on 12/11/2014 - 04:28 pm.

    Yes, the number is correct

    After seeing Colin Brownlow’s question above, I checked with Prof. Uggen and the numbers are correct as published. His only caveat to make it seem a little less startling is that one individual may account for more than one arrest, so it doesn’t mean that 22. 7 percent of all African-American Minneapolitans get arrested in a given year.

    • Submitted by Colin Brownlow on 12/12/2014 - 08:28 am.

      Yikes!

      Those are shocking numbers. How do you have a civilized society when arrest rates are that high for the population as a whole and even higher for visible minorities? I know this is outside of the race issue – but it does beg a few questions. 1. Are people being arrested for relatively trivial or administrative matters that would be better dealt with police cautions, ticketing or administrative actions? 2. Are police interactions with citizens escalating, rather than deescalating relatively minor situations to the point where arrests are occurring where they otherwise would not really be warranted? 3. How do our arrest rates (not incarceration rates) stack up against other developed world countries? 4. Given the numbers Eric cites are correct – and I accept that they are – then what are individuals life time risk of arrest. Even at a 2% annual rate for whites, and accepting the fact that we’re going to see a lot of multiple arrestees, the life time likelihood of arrest has to be huge.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/11/2014 - 04:32 pm.

    Out of line

    …is the most genteel and polite way of expressing the disparity that I’ve seen. Not only do we have ample evidence of much higher arrest rates for blacks than for whites – for the same or very similar infractions – we keep walling off larger and larger portions of the population from taking part in the country’s civic life. If a conviction means you can’t get a job, can’t rent an apartment, and can’t vote, what useful role is left for you in society?

    While there may well be crimes for which punishment is really the *only* reasonable response, in most cases, we’d be far better off as a culture if we’d revert to the very old-fashioned notion of a criminal having a “debt to society.” Once that debt has been repaid, the ex-con ought to be able to get on with his/her life. Life-long punishment in the form of handicaps to employment, residency, civic participation and the like are, at best, counterproductive.

    Sentencing, not only the length involved but which crimes get what kind of sentencing upon conviction, often reflects the nature of a sizable part of the populace. Offhand, I can’t think of a better descriptive word for that nature than “Puritanical.” What sounds reasonable, at least to some, in the abstract turns out to be terrible public policy in the real world – Judge Castro’s example being one of many, many cases that could be cited as illustrations.

    If we were talking about a foreign country with these sorts of policies and arrest and sentencing disparities, we’d all be shaking our collective heads in disparaging disbelief.

  5. Submitted by Richard Voorhees on 12/11/2014 - 05:00 pm.

    Prisoners

    North Korea exceeds our rate of imprisonment.

    Earlier South Aftrica was the world leader but then Mr. Mandela came to office. Then Russia was ahead but we caught up.

    Sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that this statistic indicates that we fail to address dominant problems.

    Pretend that you’ve never been in Minnesota before. Go to the Stillwater Penitentiary in Bayport. Sit in the waiting room. On the basis of who you see there estimate the demographic distribution of the State.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/11/2014 - 07:31 pm.

    First word—drugs.1/2 of

    First word—drugs.

    1/2 of people in federal prison for drug offenses. And a significant number of people are convicted for crimes done in the cause of financing drug habits.

    Second–mandated sentences. 88% of the increase is related to stricter sentencing rules.

    And, together now:

    Since Congress created mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in the 1980s, the federal prison population has grown from 24,000 prisoners to over 214,000 prisoners – the largest prison system in the world.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/11/2014 - 09:19 pm.

    I agree

    Let me start with agreeing that incarceration rates in America are way too high and add that jailing people for drug use is ridiculous. I will go further and suggest that only violent crimes should result in prison terms but those should be life terms. For non-violent crimes, restitution should be the punishment for the first and maybe the second time, but then it should be all over.

    Existing system doesn’t make sense. It puts minimal offenders in jail where they only get worse, get out quickly on parole, and commit more crimes, thus also clogging the system. That is why this arrest rate looks so high: people are arrested, jailed for a month or a year, and released.. and soon have to be arrested again. Theoretically it is enough to have a dozen people per thousand who are arrested every week to create cited statistics. Let people committing non-violent crimes off the hook one or two times with the knowledge that after the third time they will not have another chance.

    Now, while talking about incarceration rates is legitimate and necessary, talking about incarceration by race is useless. There are more blacks in jails than whites but there are also many more men than women so if you pretend that you have never been to Minnesota (or to Earth for that matter) and stop in any jail, you will also be puzzled by the fact that life on Earth still exists since you will see male to female ratio of 8 to 1 or something like that….

    Interestingly, an example with a Somali man proves my point: person’s color doesn’t matter, the car does.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/12/2014 - 07:55 am.

      You mean if one looks like they may be violating the law, they are more likely to draw the attention of a police officer and get questioned??? I like that concept and wonder why folks find it so hard to understand. It is unfortunate that old cars tend to have lights that stop working and other issues.

      I keep wondering if people want officers to spend more time questioning people who do not look suspicious? Or if they want officers to do nothing until after a crime is committed?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/12/2014 - 09:26 am.

        What it means

        Is that the conclusion that a person who is breaking the law is more likely to be drawn when it is a person of color.

        The criteria for law enforcement to stop and question a person is merely that the officer has some “reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” This can be something as simple as standing on a street corner where drugs are sold, or driving too slowly and taking turns too carefully. Who is more likely to look suspicious in either context? Put another way, if you have a group of vociferous teenagers at a table in a mall food court, who is more likely to draw the attention of mall security: the kids from North High, or the kids in for the day from a cul-de-sac in the suburbs?

        It also means that white people who are detained and questioned are more likely to be dismissed with a warning, rather than an arrest. A number of empirical studies demonstrating this conclusion:

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2561263/

        http://mn.gov/cobm/pdf/COBM%20-%202013%20Research%20Report%20on%20Disparities.pdf

        http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/aus9010.pdf

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/12/2014 - 01:19 pm.

          Race or Poverty or Education

          Since Race, Poverty, Culture and Education are so closely related in this country, I am not sure how these sources are certain that race is the key factor.

          My belief is that people who are poor, academically challenged and have a “chip on their shoulder” end up questioned, arrested and in jail far more often than people who are middle class, academically capable and respectful.

          Maybe the reason for their being low income and being pulled over are closely related. I know that my lower income friends have a very different attitude about life which has kept them getting ahead.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/12/2014 - 01:31 pm.

            Race or Poverty or Education

            Race is pretty obvious to a law enforcement officer or person on the street. Poverty, culture, and education are not so visible.

            Class is almost as uncomfortable for Americans to discuss as race, so I commend you for bringing it up. As far as the “chip on the shoulder” goes, in my sporadic practice as a criminal defense attorney, I found that bad attitude knew no class boundaries.

            “I know that my lower income friends have a very different attitude about life which has kept them getting ahead.” Cause and effect: Does the attitude cause the status, or the status cause the attitude (sorry, but hard work and persistence do not always lead to success in America)?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/12/2014 - 07:01 pm.

              Visibility

              Personally I think poverty and culture (ie class) are as visible or more than race.

              My lower income friends tend to get good jobs occasionally, and everything starts heading towards stability if not affluence. Then they get in an argument with the boss, tell some inappropriate joke at work, buy something they can not afford, get divorced, etc. Though I love them dearly, I believe it is the poor attitude and limited common sense that limit their success.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 12/12/2014 - 08:07 pm.

            Wow….

            the two are not mutually exclusive. And for the record, I’ve met a lot more middle class people with a “chip on their shoulder” than I have in all my volunteer work with the poor. So spare me the dreck about which faction is “respectful.” All that means is that you view anyone that doesn’t conform to your narrow template of how people should look, live and act with suspicion. Many, many of us have chosen not to be sheep but still manage to hold meaningful, well paying jobs and careers.

      • Submitted by Reilly Liebhard on 12/12/2014 - 01:20 pm.

        “Looks like”?

        “Looks like they may be violating the law”? As another commenter has pointed out, this suspicion must still be articulated with some degree of specificity. The article doesn’t make clear whether the older car more frequently generated infractions justifying a stop. If he was getting pulled over solely because he drove a dinged-up old car (with fully functional equipment), or was being singled out for de minimis offenses which are ignored for thousands of others every day (think 57 in a 55 on I-94), then we still have profiling based on socioeconomic class — and it’s still repugnant to the Constitution.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 12/12/2014 - 07:59 pm.

        And how does one “look like they may be violating the law?”

        Hence the problem…we don’t need people with such a limited, antiquated world view attempting to establish who or what is suspicious. The perception from the cul de sac is about as far from the realities of city life as can be.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/12/2014 - 09:23 am.

      …..I will go further and suggest that only violent crimes should result in prison terms but those should be life terms….

      Ilya:

      There was an all-time high of about 160,000 life sentences in 2012 (49,000 without possibility of parole).
      http://www.projectcensored.org/number-us-prison-inmates-serving-life-sentences-hits-new-record/

      There were approximately 410,000 people arrested for violent crime in 2011
      http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-43

      So how big a population of “lifers” do you want? How many can a society support?

  8. Submitted by John Appelen on 12/11/2014 - 11:07 pm.

    Freedom

    We also have lots of money, free time and freedom. And our culture is fascinated with criminals, violence, guns, drugs, etc. Just look at the TV shows that are popular. It does not surprise me that our incarceration rate is high. We give people a lot of rope…

    I can agree that people should be able to serve their time, then be given a second chance.

    Of course, we could also reduce our incarceration rate if we executed known violent murderers more quickly.

    Finally, why do we need to have far more police in poorer neighborhoods? People here continue to be concerned about more arrests in poorer areas. If you want to reduce the number of arrests in those areas, let’s just reduce the number of police in those areas. I mean it seems you keep inferring that arrest rates should be similar across all income levels, races, etc… And if they aren’t you accuse the criminal justice system of bias.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/12/2014 - 07:39 am.

      Overly-aggressive policing

      People and communities who complain about the police and believe that the police are “hunting them down” should be accommodated. The city should simply withdraw police presence from those neighborhoods and elimninate any concern that they are being overly aggressive. I’m sure the police would be relieved.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/12/2014 - 09:26 am.

        Or

        The police should simply do what they are paid to do and the law says that they should do:
        enforce the laws impartially (something in the Constitution about equal standing before the law).

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/12/2014 - 03:14 pm.

      Overpolicing and arrests

      The dilemma is that street crime and crimes against other poor people occur where poor people live which tend to be disproportionately African-American. Poor people also are involved disproportionately in crime for survival, e.g. drug trade. Also, law enforcement has attempted to lower crime rates by so-called “broken window” policies that also has a tendency to target poor people for petty offenses, like jaywalking, turnstile jumping and shoplifting or possession. (It would be interesting to see some comparative statistics on level of arrest and prosecution for possession of firearms (conceal and carry) by race and class.).

      The other side of “broken windows” policies is that poor people tend to be victims of more serious crimes which “broken window” law enforcement policies often ignore. I’ve read that many residents of poor communities feel unprotected by the police who are unresponsive to the serious crimes committed there against them while feeling and often being victimized by the police for committing these petty offenses. I personally know someone (white) who used to live in a racially mixed but poor section of Milwaukee whose home was burgled 20-30 times and who, when reporting one of the crimes while in progress to the Milwaukee police was asked to call back after the criminals had left the home. This person confirmed this perception for me.

      I wonder of anyone has seen the HBO show “The Wire”? This show really grapples with the topic of Eric’s post in a realistic way from a dramatic angle. It was written by a former Baltimore Sun reporter and a former Baltimore homicide detective and featured among its cast former members of the Baltimore police as well as former (and in some cases not completely reformed) criminals. I’ve read that many cops have confirmed the realism and authenticity of this show from a law enforcement standpoint. What this show dramatizes so effectively (and probably understates ), is just how law enforcement and law enforcement policies work (or really don’t work) in the poor sections of our cities and how damaged and broken our cities are in this respect. (Caution: while I recommend this show, it’s definitively in the “Rated R for violence, language and sexual conduct” territory.).

  9. Submitted by jason myron on 12/11/2014 - 11:11 pm.

    Prisoners are product in this country.

    It’s the only jobs program that the GOP enthusiastically supports. From law enforcement, that continues to be against the legalization of marijuana as it provides a steady flow of that product into an increasing privatized prison system, along with easy revenue from cash and property forfeitures, to the drug testing of welfare and in some cases, the unemployed. All designed to keep a commodity flowing into an eager market, specifically designed to exploit and profit from human tragedy.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/12/2014 - 09:54 am.

      The GOP

      A lot of Republicans are pushing for sentencing reform, and have made common cause on this issue with many on the left. Part of it is economics, part of it is a libertarian impulse.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/12/2014 - 09:01 pm.

    Analogy

    Police officers are taught to evaluate the risk (to them and community) and act accordingly. So they do use their prior knowledge, experience, and statistics to make a decision (which they often have to make quickly). Imagine yourself walking down the street and seeing a Golden Retriever running at you. Unless you are afraid of all dogs, most likely you will not feel fear. Now imagine a Rottweiler running at you… So basically you will be judging the situation based on your general knowledge and statistics of dog bites which is a very reasonable thing to do. The same with police officers – and the danger is higher. Obviously, all three things police officers are considering before making a decision involve noticing the race of people around them but that is not the same as racism. In other words, race is taken into account but most likely that is not due to racism (even though there are racists around in general and in police force in particular but not as many as some want to claim).

    For example, George Zimmerman did take Trayvon Martin’s race into account when he made a decision to confront him even though his supporters may say that he did not. But it wasn’t racism that influenced him, as Martin’s supporters assert, but the knowledge that young black men had burglarized the neighborhood. Zimmerman acted rationally on the basis of very specific information he had because his goal was to prevent possible burglary in his area. If he were to confront a black teenager in this manner in, let’s say, Disneyland, it would have been much less reasonable and the possibility that he were acting this way because he was a racist would have been much higher.

    Here is another example. Imagine police are called for a burglary in progress in a store. When a police officer arrives, she sees a person running out of the store; clearly she will try to stop that person because the behavior looks suspicions. Now imagine she sees two people running out of the store – a man in a suit and a man in dirty ragged clothing. If an officer may stop only one person, she will have to make an immediate decision and most likely she will go after a disheveled man based on experience even though in this case it may be wrong. Imagine now that there is a man and a woman running out of the store. Again, if she can stop only one, she will stop a man and not because she is sexist but because it is more likely that a burglar is a man. Same with the case if there is a black and white man running out of the store dressed about the same; again, it is more reasonable to go after a black man based on statistics, not bias. A police officer may be wrong in her judgments in all of the above cases but she is doing what is the most logical thing in each case which has nothing to do with racism or sexism or any other bias.

    The fact that there are more black people in jails affects people’s perception in general and police officers’ perception in particular but not because they are racists. So while there may be some truth to saying that it may be more difficult to be a young black male, that is not because of racism (and obviously, I would tell my white son not to grab police officer’s gun and cooperate with them all the time, just the same as a black father should tell his son). But the only way out of this situation lies within black community, not white community. If blacks commit less crime (and now they do commit more crimes regardless of effect of perceptions) then perceptions will go away.

    Sure, I can see people saying that this perception I am talking about is racism. But it is not –because racism is subconscious and this behavior is rational, just like fearing Rottweiler more than Golden Retriever.

    Mr. Rovick, the question should be how many violent and repeated criminals on the street can a society support? I am sure my system will result in fewer people in prisons, less crime, and not so overworked court system.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/13/2014 - 08:35 am.

      Excellent Analogy

      I always am reminded of the TSA taking away my 70 year old rural MN mother’s cuticle scissors. All in the name of consistency… What a waste…

      We pay people to think, evaluate risks and take action. This is what enables employees to do their job effectively and efficiently.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/13/2014 - 09:36 am.

        Except we don’t

        Bureaucrats aren’t paid to think, they’re paid to follow procedure. This results in cases where little boys are suspended from school because they chewed their mornng toast into the shape of a hand gun, teenaged girls are suspended from school for sharing a Midol tablet with her girlfriend because it violated the rule about sharing drugs, and old ladies in wheelchairs are told to loosen their Depends so TSA can search for weapons.

        We would all be better off if they were paid to think.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/13/2014 - 11:15 am.

      Old and new racists

      Many people on the right I would say are hung up on the notion that racist attitudes mean the old racism of Bull Conner and Selma, Alabama, the Klan. But there is such a thing as “institutional racism” which I think you’ve pretty accurately described in your post. Except it’s perhaps not always so subliminal as you suggest for everyone. George Zimmerman was not a cop. He was a vigilante type who stalked Treyvon Martin before confronting him- why? Because he was black in some place where he’s “not supposed to be.”

      The Treyvon Martins of this country get killed and harassed everyday just for that reason where white kids don’t. Its that simple.

      I’m seeing posts from people I know on facebook from the Tea Party using a racist pejorative term to refer to President Obama. These people will object and call me a racist if I point out their racism with such a post.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/15/2014 - 02:59 pm.

      Rational

      There was very little rational about what happened to Trayvon Martin. That was all about a man with a gun who felt he should use it because he could. It was about race because there was no other indication that he didn’t belong in the neighborhood, let alone needed to be stalked then shot. Zimmerman is a predator, as is clear from not only that incident but several other incidents since then.

      I would be much more likely to follow your argument if you had a good one. I met a man in a grocery store once who I couldn’t believe had never been jailed. And, by met, I mean that my boyfriend and I were attacked by him. He had been charged numerous times with various crimes, and it wasn’t his first violent offense. Yet, each time he pled and he didn’t get more than a slap on the wrist. In fact, the police actively tried to get us to not press charges by WARNING us that we might have to go to court. The man attacked strangers in a grocery store because they had the audacity to move a grocery cart that had been abandoned for several minutes with no owner in sight in the check out aisle. I wonder if he’d been black if he would have gone to jail one or more of those times. It’s not rational to believe that this guy didn’t need some jail time after looking up his rap sheet.

      That is, if you see a rottweiler walking on a leash and a golden retriever mauling a child, how is it rational to shoot the rottweiler? Yet, this country is full of rottweilers in pounds for the crime of being a rottweiler, while golden retrievers get a pass. Even dachsunds have been known to kill people…

  11. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/13/2014 - 10:06 am.

    perception

    There’s a good article (with – gasp – numbers) in the WaPo:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/12/01/whites-greatly-overestimate-the-share-of-crimes-committed-by-black-people/

    You’ll see that 21% of violent crimes are committed by blacks, which pretty well matches their proportion of the U.S. population. So blacks are no more likely to commit violent crimes than whites even though (according to the same article) they are -perceived- as being twice as likely to.

  12. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/13/2014 - 11:36 am.

    One of the problems with mass incarceration

    is that young people (mostly men) are taken out of society during the years when they should be taking their first jobs, getting married, and starting families.

    Take a 19-year-old who is sentenced to 15 years on drug charges. He gets out at age 34 with no job history and a great deal of anger.

    And why was he in the drug trade in the first place? Probably because he saw that there were no living-wage jobs (or even no jobs at all) in his community, and he did not have the money to relocate in search of jobs that might not materialize. Whether it’s meth in the rural areas or cocaine in the cities, the low-level soldiers in the drug industry are young people who feel that they have nothing to lose.

    I spent my elementary school years in a factory town, and most of the children in my classes were the children men who worked in one of two manufacturing plants. They all lived middle class lives, owning their own homes, owning a car, taking vacations, usually on the husband’s income alone. Crime was low, since any high school graduate could walk right into a factory job and earn a down payment on a house in a few years.

    What happened? Corporate greed. The companies that supported that town went off in search of cheap labor overseas. Great for the guys in the boardroom, disastrous for everyone else. How many blue collar workers now can earn a down payment on a house in five years? How many can support a family on one income with no food stamps or Medicaid?

    If we want to reduce crime, we need to provide meaningful alternatives for youth from low-income families in both rural and urban areas.

    If the corporate pooh-bahs would stop thinking, “China’s getting too expensive, so let’s move production to Vietnam,” and would instead think, “It’s time we gave back in return for thirty years of tax cuts. Let’s shift production to Appalachia or inner city Detroit,” you’d see crime drop.”

    I think it’s significant that when I lived in Japan in the 1970s, when it achieved a supposedly impossible unemployment rate of 2%, violent crime was practically unknown. With “the new normal” at 4%, thanks to Japan’s adoption of “international” (i.e. U.S. corporate pirate) business standards, crime and other social indicators of economic distress are rising.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/13/2014 - 05:50 pm.

      Please share

      What did the factories produce?

      Per my usual view, were American consumers willing to pay any additional money for those products to keep those higher paying jobs in that American town?

      My view is that most American consumers just want low cost high quality goods and are pretty indifferent to where they come from. As the success of Walmart, Target, etc, etc show.

      Unless you want to go out of business, companies need to provide those low cost high quality products. And they are not going to do that with many low educated high cost employees.

      When will we consumers accept our role in creating this problem?

      I visited Fleetfarm with one of my Chinese customers, he thought it was amusing that almost every product we looked at said “Made in China”. On the upside, us giving them all our wealth of our own free will has enabled them to buy the high cost equipment from the company I work for. Thankfully it designs and builds right here in town…

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/16/2014 - 12:55 pm.

        We have a chicken-or-egg situation here

        Nowadays, a lot of people shop at WalMart because it’s all they can afford, and the reason that it’s all they can afford is that they are working at one or more jobs that don’t allow them to make ends meet. (One full-time minimum wage job at the new state minimum wage of $9.50 is only $1520 a month, and no, it’s not just teenagers working these jobs anymore.)

        From what I remember of the 1980s and 1990s, WalMart was a regional retailer that was well-regarded for bringing a variety of merchandise to small Southern towns that were otherwise without adequate shopping. I can still remember that it proudly advertised its stock of American-made goods.

        Large-scale offshoring started in the 1980s and picked up speed after the passage of NAFTA (and yes, I blame Bill Clinton–I’m much farther left than the mainstream Democrats) and the granting of most favored nation status to China. It was around this time that we began hearing stories of how WalMart was putting the screws on its American suppliers to meet Chinese prices, which most of them were unable to do, so WalMart dumped them. Being self-employed myself, I know how losing a major customer can affect one’s business, and many of these suppliers were unable to recover from the loss of WalMart.

        Note that the midlevel retailers are either gone (Montgomery Ward, Donaldson’s) or holding non-stop 30%-off sales (J.C. Penney, Land’s End). Even the low-end retailers and fast food outlets have lost customers. I never thought I’d see a boarded-up McDonald’s or KFC, but now I have.

        But my point remains. Our society has not figured out what to do with low-income young men except to tell them to work their butts off for $10 an hour and still not make ends meet. Not everyone (poor, middle-class, or rich) is well-served by college, and even Dunwoody Institute costs $28,000 a year. More students want to attend the more affordable community colleges than the colleges can provide for. You may say that low-income youth should rise to the challenge, work one or two minimum-wage jobs with variable schedules, and somehow find the time and energy to take a demanding vocational program that requires long hours onsite (auto repair and food service are two that come to mind). But not everyone has the physical and/or mental energy or family support to do that, and if this kind of struggle is “character building,” why don’t we require rich kids to do it?

        We need to look to other countries to see how they handle the transition from school to work for non-university youth. Some are more successful than others.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 12/16/2014 - 04:19 pm.

          Consumer Tastes

          I think in this case the consumers drove things.
          http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-v_QPmxr_Yb8/Txwe2MgZtaI/AAAAAAAAQt4/3YK-CY1ToRc/s1600/bigthree.jpg

          From ~1945 thru the 1970’s many countries were recovering from WW II, this let the US manufacturers, unions and distributors get arrogant, greedy and lazy. Then our friends in Japan developed high quality, low cost cars that got pretty good gas mileage. Then came other products and the rest was history. The American people stopped focusing on Buying American. This occured long before Clinton, Walmart, etc…

          As you said, that is the past and is somewhat immaterial. So how do we improve the situation, my advice is to encourage ~40% of children and their parents to refocus their energies towards making their children academically proficient. The academic achievement gap is what traps many of them in poverty.

  13. Submitted by John Appelen on 12/17/2014 - 08:03 am.

    Racism

    One of my commenters unintentionally brought something to light for me… If this is “racism”, why is it mostly Black and Hispanic men who are targeted?

    While researching “stop and frisk”, I learned that women were typically not checked.

    Just a thought.

Leave a Reply