The Heritage Foundation

News Releases on Crime

May 3, 2000

May 3, 2000 | News Releases on Crime

Young Black Males Still Face "Unacceptably High" Murder Risk, Study Says

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2000-Despite a decade-long drop in crime, young black males still face an "unacceptably high" risk of being murdered, according to a Heritage Foundation study released today.

In 1998, an average 15-year-old white male faced a 1-in-345 chance of being murdered before his 45th birthday. For black males, the chances were 1 in 45. And for black males in Washington, D.C.-which still has one of the highest murder rates of any city in America-it's 1 in 12.

In some cities, the chances that a young black male will be murdered are greater than the risk of death faced by soldiers in World Wars I and II, says the study, written by researchers Gareth Davis and David Muhlhausen.

"Politicians of both parties have hailed the news of declining crime rates," Davis and Muhlhausen say. "But violent crime rates remain unacceptably high and well above the levels experienced before the 1960s."

During the 1990s, changes in the probability that a young black male will be murdered before his 45th birthday varied widely from city to city. Of the eight cities with large African-American populations for which statistically significant homicide rates could be gleaned, seven saw the probability decline and only one, Baltimore, saw it increase.

Brooklyn saw the biggest improvement, with a drop in the murder risk of 67.2 percent. Los Angeles also did well, with a 50.4 percent drop. Five cities experienced moderate declines: Detroit (-40.5 percent), New Orleans (-31.6 percent), Chicago (-23.6 percent), Washington (-17 percent), and Philadelphia (-11.1 percent). In Baltimore, the chance that a young black male would be murdered before his 45th birthday increased by 37.8 percent. For all U.S. males, the murder risk dropped by 34.8 percent.

In absolute terms, the murder risk for young black males remains the highest in Washington, D.C. (8.5 percent), followed by Baltimore (7.3 percent), New Orleans (7.1 percent), Philadelphia (4.5 percent), Chicago (4.4 percent), Detroit (4.3 percent), Los Angeles (3 percent), and Brooklyn (1.9 percent). For all U.S. males the risk is 0.5 percent.

Bringing the murder rates for black males down to that of white males would dramatically improve the life expectancy of black males, the study says. In Washington, D.C., equalizing the homicide rates would raise the life expectancy of black males by more than three years, from 57 and a half to nearly 61. The life expectancy for white males in Washington is 71.

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