Urban poverty, public assistance, and murder in the U.S.: Questioning the paradox of social responsibility

Date of Completion

January 1999


American Studies|Sociology, Criminology and Penology|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare




Several politicians and social commentators have suggested that attempts to further the social integration of disadvantaged populations have instead resulted in the increased isolation of these groups from the dominant culture. In particular, many argue that the welfare policies of the last few decades have only succeeded in convincing the poor that they are unable to participate in the American Dream and that society is to blame for their economic woes. Increased rates of criminal activity among the lower-class, in spite of substantial efforts to reduce poverty and discrimination, is taken as support for the belief that welfare causes crime. In an effort to empirically evaluate this claim, this dissertation examines the conditioning impact of welfare benefits on the relationship between the size of the disadvantaged population and urban homicide rates. Hypotheses are tested with Census and FBI data for central cities and metropolitan counties. The results strongly contradict the notion that attempts to alleviate economic deprivation have been criminogenic and offer moderate support for the view that anti-poverty policies have served to limit the occurrence of violent street crime. ^