How does low socio-economic status influence gang involvement among black youths?

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How does low socio-economic status influence gang involvement among black youths?

How does low socioeconomic status influence gang involvement among black youths?


From the beginning of the 19th century, gangs have been part of many countries. Youth, especially of the lower socio-economic class arranged themselves in cohorts and indulged in violence in many streets in the United States of America, Canada and many developed countries. Calvin, A. 2011, Crutchfield, R., & Wadsworth, T. 2013 studied unemployment among black youths and the crimes associated with their demographics. They hypothesized that most of the youth engaged in gang activities were from specific socio-economic or racial backgrounds, a claim which other studies needed to be investigated further. Violence was seen as an economic survival tactic that could enable the gang members to meet their daily needs and even security. This paper reviews the literature on the influence of low socio-economic status on gang involvement among black youths.

Socio-economic status (SES) is determined through the levels of education, income and the type of economic activity practiced by people. It is the social status of a specific class of people, groups or individuals.  SES is important in determining the behavioral social activities, practices and educational levels. According to Calvin, A. (2011), low SES correlates to lower levels of education, poor living standards and poor health conditions which distress the lives of many of the affected people. Unfortunately, many black communities living in the United States of America and Canada are the most vulnerable. The youth, who account for the highest population, end up in dangerous lifestyles of drug abuse, treacherous sex behaviors, and violent gang involvement. Research indicates that SES is a contributing factor influencing the life of children, youths and adults in the overall development, lifespans, psychological and physiological health.

Over the years, social scientists have been investigating and reporting on the membership of youth gangs and their characteristics. Lee, M., Maume, M., & Ousey, G. (2013) viewed gang involvement as part of the normal adolescent peer influence which involves a plethora of behavioral changes in the youth. However, as the youth mobilized each other, they grew worse and changed from conventional lifestyles to wild routines. The U.S. Department of justice defines the word “gang” as a group’s involvement in criminal activities. Therefore, for a group to be considered a gang, they must be indulging in criminal activities.

Many of the best studies on socio-economic class and gang enrolment have concentrated mainly in urban areas (Mooney, L., & Knox, D. 2009). Delinquency and crime have an inverse correlation with social class. This view is held by many researchers. Other researchers have concluded that poverty and income inequality have independent relationships with violent crimes committed by gangs.

Gangs thrive in neighborhoods of weak community networks. In such places, members of the community have weak ties among themselves and also between them and the elite societies. The greatest predictors of male involvement in gang activities among black people are lack of money and absence of a positive man role model. Black ladies engage in gang activities after breaking loose from their parents mainly due to poverty in the family, arrest of the parents or as a result of drug abuse (Mooney, L., & Knox, D. 2009).

Another research by Raphael, S. (2012) gave a different point of view that poverty perpetuates violence which in turn perpetuates poverty. Many people in USA and other developed countries strife to amass wealth only for it to be stolen away by violent gangs. Their struggles of beating poverty and rising to the middle class and even high class are constantly thwarted by violence. Sometimes, even the people of high social classes prey on the low class individuals and rob them of their heritage.

Presently, gang activities have reached crisis levels in the United States of America and Canada. A recent study shows that gangs own significantly more guns than most of the honorable youths in society. As a result, there have been more violence cases such as drive-by shootings and loss of many lives of the gang members and innocent people. Bands of violent youths gain access to firearms leading to violence in otherwise serene neighborhoods. Ringleaders are in a continuous state of getting new recruits to replace the position of dead members and members who have been incapacitated by police firearms.

Schwalbe, C. (2009) showed that it is not possible to isolate gang activities of black youths and white youths alike without mentioning drug abuse. Poor family morals and low socio-economic backgrounds of many black youths, lead them into engagement in drug abuse at tender ages. The drugs, on the other hand, influence their negative thinking and they end up joining gangs. Gang culture is characterized by drug abuse, use of weapons and criminal activity (Solanki, V. 2012). Expansion of drug markets fuelled by the rich society leads to increase in drug abuse among the poor black youths consequently increasing gang mobility in many urban areas. Ironically, the gangs end up robbing and even killing indiscriminately regardless of socio-economic class.

Income inequality was marked as the root cause of crime. Disparities in wages and salaries lead to social segregation of the rich and the poor. There is a great relationship between poverty, low wages, participation in criminal activities and chances of being incarcerated. A research carried out on incarcerated American prison inmates gave an empirical portrait of racial relationship for crimes and social classes (Raphael, S. 2012).

Economic recessions affect all people but the poor, most of whom are blacks, are affected most. Recession-driven criminal activities include engagement in black-market exchange of goods and services. Some of the goods and services include firearms, drugs and illegal sex trafficking engagements (Myers, S. 2005).

In one of the studies, it was noted that there is a close connection between unemployment of black youths, wages and violent engagements. During economic downturns, many people make less money and the only enticing ventures are likely to be crime activities (Tombs, S. 2014). Other arguments (Mooney, L., & Knox, D. 2009) indicate that changes in the social and economic environments have direct effects on crime rates perpetrated by youth gangs. According to them, negligence of personal responsibilities leads to low social classes which in turn become a breeding ground of violence.


Suggested ways of alleviating the problem of gang violence

It is not easy to solve the problem of black youth involvement in gang activities. The most important step to curb this menace is by cutting the initiation of new gang members by halting recruitment processes. This can be achieved by showing the youth more decent ways of life through schools, religious gatherings and by parents and guardians. If children are taught the right values before they grow old, they are most likely to adhere to the teachings according to Spano, R., & Bolland, J. (2010).

Another way could be through seminars and mass media by providing anti-gang messages to the vulnerable people.  Strict rules should be inculcated into pupils and students in all levels of education to prevent immoral activities and truancy and promote morality the rest of their lives outside school. Establishment of money generating youth programs for students and youths will go an extra step in curbing gang recruitment. On the hand, the youth will engage in income generating activities and entrepreneurship. In order to run the programs successfully, all stake holders like the government should take an initiative to provide the necessary support in terms of capital and other supportive facilities.

Lee, M., Maume, M., & Ousey, G. (2013) have provided suggestions on how to deal with gangs. Preventing youth recruitment into gangs is among the long term solutions to the prevailing menace. Short-term solutions should also be employed. The best sort-term solution is by legislation of new laws and policies that directly affect the lifestyles of the youth. Such laws include banishment or regulating the supply of firearms, illegal drugs and enhancing the levels of education. If apprehended gang members face severe sentences, harsh penalty and jail terms members will be discouraged to enrol. RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) should also be curbed also. Otherwise, it is difficult for one person to fight increasing cases of gang activities single-handedly.


Calvin, A. (2011). Unemployment among Black Youths, Demographics, and Crime. Crime & Delinquency, 234-244.

Crutchfield, R., & Wadsworth, T. (2013). Poverty and Violence. International Handbook of Violence Research, 67-82.

Lee, M., Maume, M., & Ousey, G. (2013). Social Isolation and Lethal Violence across the Metro/Nonmetro Divide: The Effects of Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Poverty Concentration on Homicide. Rural Sociology, 107-131.

Mooney, L., & Knox, D. (2009). Understanding social problems (6th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Myers, S. (2005). Crime, Poverty, and Entrepreneurship. Race, Poverty, and Domestic Policy, 653-668.

Raphael, S. (2012). Crime, Incarceration, and Poverty. Oxford Handbooks Online.

Schwalbe, C. (2009). Classifying Juvenile Offenders According To Risk of Recidivism: Predictive Validity, Race/Ethnicity, and Gender. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 305-324. Doi:10.1177/0093854806286451

Solanki, V. (2012). A Study of Attitudes towards PTC Student among High Socio-Economic Status and low Socio-Economic status persons. IJSR International Journal of Scientific Research, 450-451.

Spano, R., & Bolland, J. (2010). Disentangling the Effects of Violent Victimization, Violent Behavior, and Gun Carrying for Minority Inner-City Youth Living in Extreme Poverty. Crime & Delinquency, 191-213.

Tombs, S. (2014). Health and Safety Crimes in Britain. Invisible Crimes and Social Harms.

How does low socio-economic status influence gang involvement among black youths?


Research paper 2: Literature Review

A gang is a bunch of hooligans with an organization structure, leadership and whose main aim is to cause havoc and crimes (Papachristos, Hureau and Braga 2013). Youth gang involvement is the participation of the youth  in inappropriate gang activities. There are many causes and effects of the youth’s involvement in gang undertakings including social, economic and physical reasons (Shihadeh 2009; Palmer 2009 and Fernandes 2013; McGloin 2006). This paper examines and breaches the research gaps on the influence of low socio-economic status on gang involvement among black youths. It also provides insights into the causes and effects of mob involvement of black youths.

From the beginning of the 19th century, gang involvement has been a problem in many places all over the world including large cities. Many researchers have found out that the youths’ involvement in criminal activities is a direct consequence of low-socio-economic statuses of their families (Calvin 2011; Hagedorn and Rauch 2007; Lee and Maume and Ousey 2013). The studies of Pizarro and McGloin (2006) and Lee, Maume and Ousey (2013) on the contrary stated that the youths ‘engagement in criminal acts are perfectly normal and expected in a society of many people. They stated that poverty and low economic class are not adequate signs of impending gang involvement. People can be poor and still uphold good morals.  Other researchers (Papachristos, Hureau and Braga 2013; Hagedorn and Rauch 2007 and Jutersonke, Muggah and Rodgers 2009) explained that peer pressure, permissiveness of the society, ignorance and negligence in the part of parents were the main causative factor of mob involvement of the youth..

Unemployment is another factor which leads many youths into criminal activities. Unemployment has a direct relationship with moral decadency among the youth (Calvin 2011; Fernandes 2013 and Papachristos, Hureau and Braga 2013). Unemployed youths tend to be actively involved in crime as a way of getting money to sustain their daily needs. Hagedorn and Rauch (2007) researched the role of unemployment on increased homicide in Chicago and parts of central U.S.A. They found out that unemployment was not the leading forecaster of criminal activities.

Marginalization and geographical separation also affect the morality of people. Immigrants from one geographical location tend to stay together and formulate their own ideas (Shihadeh 2009; Papachristos, Hureau and Braga 2013 and Spano and Bolland 2010). Isolated black youths performed more crimes when separated from their white counterparts that when they co-exists together (Palmer 2009 and Fernandes 2013). It was found out that stigmatization, which has an inverse relationship with social class, leads to marginalization of people. This in turn leads to geographical separation and criminal engagement in a bid to become rich or to meet daily needs. Drug abuse is both a cause and an effect of the youths’ engagement in gang activities (McGloin 2006). Peer pressure leads young initiates into drug abuse which later graduates into other criminal activities. In order for members to identify with a specific gang, they have to do several things together including robberies, killings and drug trafficking and drug abuse (Spano and Bolland 2010; VeLure Roholt 2015).

Studies into the demographic differences in the youth enrolment into gangs reveal that more boys join mobs than girls. Calvin (2011) found out that only girls without parents and morally upright guardians were in the highest danger of joining gangs. Reporting on female participation in gang activities, Bell (2009) explained that poor parenting methods, lack of society’s involvement, inadequate promotion of morals in schools and peer pressure influence both boys and girls into gangs. On the other hand, boys just join gangs to show their masculinity, increase their sense of security and gain materially (Hagedorn and Rauch 2007; Jutersonke, Muggah and Rodgers 2009). The demographics of gangs depend on neighborhoods and the characteristics of people living around (Papachristos, Hureau and Braga 2013). The mere fact that a gang operates in a certain place does not mean that they are responsible for all evil occurrences (McGloin 2006), non-gang members also commit isolated crimes.

Researchers have suggested reasons why gang activities have not been rooted out presently.  Poor criminal investigation by police departments (Hagedorn and Rauch 2007), use of conventional ways of curbing crime (Decker, Melde and Pyrooz (2013), poor upbringing of children and lack of information from relevant institutions (Spano and Bolland 2010; VeLure Roholt 2015).

Possible solutions to the problem of youth involvement in criminal activities are many. Civil Gang Injunctions (CGIs) gang control techniques (Hennigan and Sloane 2013) are effective. However, Jutersonke, Muggah and Rodgers (2009) reported that the best method does not involve dealing with gangs but their neighborhoods. Other possible methods of stopping youth crime include joint efforts of legislators, planners and development experts in all regions in the world (Jutersonke, Muggah and Rodgers 2009 and VeLure Roholt 2015).

From the foregoing, it is clear that a lot needs to be done in order to prevent the youth from joining gangs. The character traits displayed by youth gangs can be clarified using Robert Merton’s social strain theory which explains that the dominant values set by the society can be accomplished through a standard set of values and means. Prevailing conditions in society produce people who are better equipped to face the challenges presented. Some of the possible research areas which have not been covered include the role of the government in disarming gangs and providing them with job opportunities, stopping drug trafficking to the most affected areas and the effect of providing moral lessons to the incarcerated youths in prisons. It is also important to investigate the low female engagement in gang activities among the black youths.



Bell, K. 2009. “Gender and gangs.” Crime & Delinquency, 55(3), 363-387. Doi:10.1177/0011128707306017

Calvin, A. 2011. “Unemployment among Black Youths, Demographics, and Crime.” Crime & Delinquency, 234-244.

Decker, S. H., Melde, C., & Pyrooz, D. C. 2013. “What do we know about gangs and gang members and where do we go from here?” Justice Quarterly, 30(3), 369-402. Doi:10.1080/07418825.2012.732101

Fernandes, F. L. 2013. “Youth gang members in rio de janeiro: The face of a ‘Lost generation’ in an age of fear and mistrust.” Bulletin of Latin American Research, 32(2), 210-223. Doi:10.1111/blar.12030

Hagedorn, J., & Rauch, B. 2007. “Housing, gangs, and homicide.” Urban Affairs Review, 42(4), 435-456. Doi:10.1177/1078087406294435

Hennigan, K. M., & Sloane, D. 2013. “Improving civil gang injunctions.” Criminology & Public Policy, 12(1), 7-41. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12000

Jutersonke, O., Muggah, R., & Rodgers, D. 2009. “Gangs, urban violence, and security interventions in central America.” Security Dialogue, 40(4-5), 373-397. Doi:10.1177/0967010609343298

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