What Came First?

From Pepper Bowen

Chicken or the egg? It’s an interesting and eternally perplexing question that has been asked in time immemorial not because we all sit around pondering the origins of poultry but because we as people often do ponder origins, beginnings, where it all came from.

Directly pitting and comparing the logic behind stories of creation against stories of evolution feed into that basic human curiosity. And when there is such a symbiotic relationship as exists between the chicken (that creates eggs) and the egg (that only comes from an existing chicken) we tend to develop all sorts of theories to substantiate our beliefs.

Such is the case with crime and poverty. The symbiosis is akin to the chicken and the egg query in that marked poverty may well be the result of widespread crime, broadly speaking; simultaneously, widespread crime only feeds poverty. Notice I do mention this assessment is in broad strokes because it would be foolish to deny or even ignore the role lower education, job opportunities play in poverty. However, I would argue those are also crimes against humanity – but that subject for another time. What cannot be debated is the role poverty directly impacts the ability to have and continue to obtain food.

Poverty --> (yields) food insecurity.

Let’s take a second to look at some actual numbers. Feeding America reports in Louisiana:

  • Out of a population of 4,649,676, 804,500 people in Louisiana are food insecure. (That’s 17.3% and seemingly odd for a state that is largely agricultural, but that aside)
  • The percentages of household incomes that meet the SNAP eligibility threshold of 130% of the poverty line is a total of 57%.
  • The percentages of household incomes that between 130% and 185% above the poverty line is around 13%.
  • The percentages of household incomes that exceed 185% of the poverty line is 31%.

Putting that into more relatable numbers, that means for a family of gross monthly income cannot exceed $2,633 (which is 130% of the poverty line) in order to qualify for benefits.

From Feeding America

From Feeding America

Let’s step back and revisit the working poor. It is absolutely true that to need SNAP benefits, one only really need be working poor. However, in order to qualify to get them, the entire household’s gross income has to meet or fall below 130% of the poverty line. That looks like making every working-age person in the house combined earning not even $660 per week to cover food, clothing, housing, transportation to and from work or school, incidentals, the works.

In my community of Louisiana Congressional District 2, which is basically most of New Orleans, 23.7% or 87,360 of the total 368,471 population are food insecure. Coincidentally, we have been Top 10 highest crime rates for cities our size for a good while. A recent article on Nola.com revealed that more than 50 percent of working-age black men are unemployed. And this is an important number because the city itself is 58.5% African American.

So, what came first? The crime or the poverty? Scholars continue argue and present data in support of their arguments. However, it is logical that impoverished people will commit crimes to “compensate”, as it were, their lack of income. It is equally logical that folks who commit crimes would live in poverty – ironically promoting the very conditions that make crimes attractive.

Which came first? No one really knows. We can only agree there is a symbiotic relationship.