Don’t Believe the “Ferguson Effect”

The Wall Street Journal recently had an op-ed that blamed a rising number of violent crimes so far this year in several large cities on a “Ferguson effect.” The idea here is that police have become less proactive (in terms of stopping and frisking people who look suspicious to them) in the wake of attention given to police shootings of young African American men in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities during the past year or more.

This claim of blame is without merit. Crime rates fluctuate, and it is far too soon to know whether violent crime is really rising; a few cities’ worth of data certainly is not enough to indicate a trend. Even if crime were rising, many factors can affect crime rates, and rigorous research is needed to determine these factors, which often remain elusive even after this sort of research has been done. The WSJ op-ed claim also is made without comparable data. Have all the cities discussed in the WSJ op-ed changed their policing? What about other cities? We do not know enough about any changes in policing in enough cities to reach any conclusions about the so-called Ferguson effect.

So please don’t believe the “Ferguson effect.” Jumping to conclusions about crime rate trends and reasons for them does no one any good, least of all the victims of crime.

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Social Class and Educational Inequality

Today’s New York Times (http://tinyurl.com/oaqtm4b) provides new evidence of the impact of social class on educational achievement. The evidence comes from the Educational Longitudinal Study, which began tracking 15,000 high school sophomores in 2002; the students are now in their late 20s. A study using these data divided the students into four “social classes” based on their parents education, income, and occupation. Only 14% of the poorest students have a bachelor’s degree by now, compared to 60% of the wealthiest students. Even among students with similar scores on a math test they took in 2002, the wealthiest students were much more likely than the poorest students to obtain a bachelor’s degree. In fact, as the Times article noted, “a poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.”

Because  bright youths from poor backgrounds are less likely to go to college than their wealthier students who are less bright, this study provides compelling new evidence of the impact of social class on educational achievement. This impact becomes a vicious circle: if poor youths do not go to college, they are more likely to have low incomes as adults, and their own children will be less likely to go to college and graduate.