Violent Crime & The Poor Side of Town

Sunday, March 27th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are violent crime & the poor side of town.

Our Speakers are Barry Latzer and Howard Husock.


Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement. Today’s discussion will be on two topics: Violent Crime and The Poor Side of Town.

Our first speaker is Barry Latzer who is Professor Emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY. Barry is an expert in the history of crime, and he has recently released his newest book entitled The Roots of Violent Crime in America: From the Gilded Age through the Great Depression.

I want to find out why certain ethnic minorities commit more violence. What is the role of socio-economics in crime rates? Why have there been huge increases in crime since COVID? What happens when you defund the police? Should we police lesser crimes that disturb the peace like urinating in the streets? And are prisons filled with people convicted of drug possession?

Our second speaker will be Howard Husock who is a senior fellow at AEI. Howard will discuss his new book The Poor Side of Town: And Why We Need It. Howard argues that housing for the poor delivered by the private sector is superior, like in the old days when the landlord lived on the floor below. Public housing has failed, so let’s figure out a workable solution.

Each month since the beginning of Covid, I evaluate the monthly employment report because it is the most important global economic statistic to help us determine the strength of the economic rebound.

This month was another exciting release. Here is what you need to know. The headline number of employment growth from the establishment survey was 431,000 and there were positive revisions for the previous two months of an additional 100,000.

In the first quarter of 2022, the average employment growth was just over 550,000 per month which was identical to the monthly average for 2021. This means that the economy is adding jobs at a very fast and very consistent rate.

The US unemployment rate fell by 0.2% to 3.6% with six million looking for work. These numbers are identical to February 2020 before COVID.

The total number of workers is still 1.6 million lower than pre-COVID, but at the current rate, this will resolve in just three months.

Hospitality and leisure are lower by 1.5 million and basically explains the entire job loss in the economy. There is enormous pent-up demand for travel and entertainment so we should expect this sector to hire workers at a very fast clip. This sector was responsible for 25% of all new hires last month.

Average hourly earnings were up 5.6% versus a year ago. This story is potentially problematic because on the positive is shows robust demand for labor but the negative is that it is inflationary and that will force the Fed to raise interest rates.

There continues to be a steady decline in teleworking for any portion of your job during the week. In January 16% teleworked, in February it was 13% and in March it was only 10% as Omicron has faded and people are getting back to the office in force.

There is substantial business uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine, higher oil prices, and the like, but this did not slow down the US job market. It continues to hum.

I have some very good news to report, my What Happens Next intern Carly Brail got accepted to Harvard this week and she is beyond happy. Carly has been an incredible intern, reading two books a week to determine who should be speaking on this program. She is terrific, and I am sure she will make a fabulous contribution to her new university.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Barry Latzer.


Barry Latzer

Topic: What is the Cause of Violent Crime
Bio: Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY
Reading: The Roots of Violent Crime in America: From the Gilded Age through the Great Depression is here


I’m Barry Latzer. I’m here to discuss the causes of crime. Criminologists blame everything on socioeconomic adversities: Poverty, residential segregation, female-headed households, high unemployment, and socially isolated large scaled communities.

These factors are relevant, so is gender, males do 10 times the violent crime of females. Age: Young males past 18 and before 40 do the bulk of violent crimes. If we only look at the last five years, which is what criminologists do, then we get a misleading picture. Criminologists need history and that’s what I do in my research and writing.

When we look at the history of crime, what we see is that various groups that immigrated to the United States, or migrated within the United States, have very different violent crime rates, some extremely high, some quite low. And these differences have very little to do with social socioeconomic adversities. They were all poor with residential segregation, high unemployment, and socially isolated communities. From the late 19th century and into the 21st, some social groups had much higher violent crime rates than others, even though they were equally adversely situated, and that’s the key to this.

The Jews, Japanese, Germans, and Scandinavians that immigrated here all had low violent crime rates. By contrast, the Irish, Mexicans, and believe it or not, the Chinese, at least in the late 19th and early 20th century, all had high violent crime rates. And most importantly for today’s discussion, white and especially black southerners, who migrated within the United States from the South to the big cities of the North had extremely high violent crime rates. What’s going on here?

These social groups subcultures engage in violence crime in response to what are perceived of as slights, insults. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re real. He’s being offended, dissed, insulted, he’s willing to resort to his gun and engage in violence.

You look at their girlfriend the wrong way, they will resort to violence. And its interpersonal quarrel and conflict that causes the vast bulk of violent crime. I am talking about rape, murder, manslaughter, and especially aggravated assault, where you use a weapon and damage the victim.

Jews, Japanese, Germans and Scandinavians, low violent crime rates, even though they’re in America, they have access to guns like everybody else. Criminologists need to take this subculture of violence explanation into account. And they don’t want to because many people think it’s racist, it’s insulting to the group. But I would argue we’re talking about a culture, not a race. The subculture of violence is influenced by cultural factors that means the beliefs, the values, the behaviors of a group. It’s not racial. You can take people who are black-skinned, put them in England, put them in Africa, put them in Haiti, and they’re going to have very different beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Race is not determinant.

Culture is determinant. Therefore, it’s not correct to say that subculture of violence theory is racist. It’s not based on race. It’s based on culture.

Barry Latzer Transcript:

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Howard Husock

Topic: How to Improve Housing for the Poor
Bio: Senior Fellow at AEI
Reading: The Poor Side of Town: And Why We Need It is here


My book is about the history and future of affordable housing. There was a time when we had affordable housing and it didn’t involve Federal programs. We once knew how to build homes for millions of Americans at a cost they could afford in neighborhoods that had a good quality of life.

Few examples. In Philadelphia, between 1870 and 1920, a staggering 299,000 small row homes were built. Chicago had thousands of two flats, in 1940 it had 382,000 housing units in two-, three- and four-unit homes more than all its single-family houses. Oakland, California had bungalows. 12,000 built in just three years between 1921 and 1924.

We once had the formula for low income, affordable housing, which served as the foundation for healthy communities. Bronzeville in Chicago, Black Bottom in Detroit, Dorchester in Boston, East Harlem in New York, there were poor, good neighborhoods with landlords who lived in the same buildings as their tenants with small shops, churches and synagogues nearby and the mutual aid institutions that characterize healthy communities.

We chose to demolish what were labeled slums that drove me to write my book, The Poor Side of Town and Why We Need It. I blame a movement that began with Jacob Riis. Very celebrated author of a book How the Other Half Lives about 19th Century New York housing tenements on the lower East Side. A movement that he sparked and continues blindly today. Housing reform, a movement predicated on the idea that the private market fails the poor and must be replaced by government.

Riis was a pioneer photographer who was New York’s leading police reporter. He was trained as a sensationalist and his approach to housing was aimed at images that shocked.
There was more to the slums than abject poverty. Hundreds of thousands of families lived normal lives. They worked, paid rent, fed their children, had hopes and dreams for the future. And crucially poverty was not a life sentence.

Riis set off a stampede of misguided reform. He germinated the idea of public housing, as championed by two New York Women, Edith Abbott Wood of Columbia University and Catherine Bauer. Both believed that the private housing market would fail. Both would join the Roosevelt administration and Bauer would write the National Housing Act in 1937 for Federally financed public housing.

That Act would become the vehicle for slum clearance. Neighborhoods replete with small landlords, with families taking in lodgers, with single room occupancy hotels. Small shops and community institutions were swept away and replaced by The Projects. Planned communities without streets, stores or businesses. The failure and widespread demolition of public housing. This is the 50th anniversary of the implosion of the 33 towers of the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis.

None of that stopped reformers for searching for government low-income housing. Today we’re told mixed income housing is the way, ignoring a fundamental question: Why shouldn’t poor neighborhoods also be good neighborhoods? They were in the past. We adopted draconian zoning laws which mandate exclusively single-family districts and mandating larger lots for such homes. This is a recipe for unaffordability.
We need to relax zoning laws to permit two and three family homes, smaller shops and businesses on ground floors. We need to stop deciding for the poor where they should live based on some planner’s vision of income restricted housing. Government has distorted housing markets. It should get out of the business altogether.

Jane Jacobs reminded us, it’s the spontaneous plans of thousands of builders and businesses that are superior to the housing planners. We need all sides of town, a full spectrum of housing types including a poor side of town.

Howard Husock:

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