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A Surprising Holman Jenkins Opinion

This opinion piece appeared in the WSJ this past weekend. Caught me off guard as his opinion pieces usually are attacking liberals. There are some subtle jabs in here, but overall he is proposing a solution to a problem. I think he solution is simplistic, but I credit him for putting his idea out there. I'm sure we would all agree that getting kids out of "slums" would be a good thing, but the issue is much more complicated (I'm no expert in this field but that's my hunch). People would leave the slums if they could but most (I suspect) don't have the means to do so.

Anyway, sharing it here as a marker of something to think about.


People in a panic usually are not acting out of love for others or concern for the well-being of abstract groups defined by skin color or other attributes. They are acting from a self-preservation motive. That’s corporate America and its political virtue signaling right now. What’s more, if you support the Black Lives Matter policy agenda (whatever it is), you would be wrong to think corporate America is being co-opted by the money it feels obligated to donate. The co-opting will work the other way as Black Lives Matter-related groups get used to having corporate money.

In the meantime, the single best thing you can do for any child in the U.S. is get him or her out of a high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods. Any child. For a host of reasons, those most in need of this help in America are disproportionately African-American.

This is the place, not race, problem I wrote about previously. A rock-bottom housing market, by definition, is always going to exist for people without credit, resources, opportunities or credentials. By now a large literature has established that living in such a place, where everyday survival is often a challenge, is not conducive to acquiring the habits for success in the larger society. And nowhere is this more dramatically heralded than in the homicide rate. With the recent upsurge in Chicago, the New York Times summarized: “A low rate in solving murders—it hovers around 20 percent—and the lack of protection for witnesses both play into the continued high murder rate, criminologists said. Murderers don’t expect to get caught and witnesses feel intimidated, they said.”

The dynamic here, research has shown, is older than even the formal collection of crime statistics. It was dramatized in the 1975 movie “Farewell, My Lovely,” about 1940 Los Angeles, in which detectives frankly acknowledge that black murders go uninvestigated. Forty years later it was the subject of 2015’s nonfiction book “Ghettoside,” by Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy.

[Here's a link to Amazon where you can rent the movie for $3.99. ] SIGN U The murder rate among black Americans is out of all proportion even to other violent crimes. Why? Because rapes don’t lead to rapes, armed robberies don’t lead to armed robberies, but they do lead to homicides in unpoliced communities. Another way of looking at it: Murders in 99% of America’s ZIP Codes are one-offs: One killing does not lead to others. That’s because most neighborhoods don’t lack “effective law” and the guarantee of “personal safety” that comes with it, to borrow the words of Ms. Leovy.

A black person is 2.5 times as likely as a white person to be killed by police. Alas, this much-cited statistic correlates with every other sociological indicator related to poverty, education and the likelihood of being involved in crime as either victim or perp. It doesn’t tell us much. The grossly disproportionate homicide rate is the sign we should be paying attention to. A black person is six or seven times as likely to be murdered as a white person. Let’s be realistic, in certain neighborhoods it’s closer to 20 times or 50 times.

These islands of concentrated poverty were first created by residential housing segregation, then by public housing subsidies, then by welfare that tends to fix people at their current addresses. About 20% of black children (compared with 1% of white children) grow up in such places. A dissenting segment of the poverty lobby has long argued for getting people out rather than pouring resources in (though the latter is the preference of our place-oriented political class). A case study was the Gautreaux housing experiment in Chicago starting in the late 1970s. Dozens of families were randomly relocated from urban public housing to suburban apartments with magnificent results for employment and educational outcomes. Also shown by acres of research: The disabling stereotype of black males as dangerous potential felons, among police and the public at large, is rooted in the dramatic (and frequently, by Hollywood, dramatized) chaos that rules in a tiny percentage of America’s neighborhoods.

By the way, let’s have a thought experiment. What would happen in a few hundred census-tract-sized neighborhoods if they were no longer peopled exclusively by those who would leave if they could?

We know what would happen. Others would move in because they see opportunity, first to refurbish the housing stock, then to create businesses and amenities to serve those attracted by the refurbished housing stock. The job market would improve. The schools would improve. This is the horror of gentrification that you hear about. Except the horror is not the normalizing of a neighborhood by making it a place where people actually choose to live. The horror was the self-reinforcing trap the neighborhood previously was for people stuck without a choice.

The opportunity to do good here has been America’s low-hanging fruit for two generations. On a good day, all of us are capable of caring about groups defined by historic disadvantages and oppression. We are not having a good day right now as many rush to be seen affirming “anti-racist” talking points simply as a matter of personal self-protection.

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