Prioritizing Stronger Families to Make Chicago Safer

In 2021, my youngest son was a victim of a violent carjacking in Chicago, a city plagued by rising crime rates. Despite being shot in the head, he miraculously survived, but the incident made the reality of the city’s crime problem painfully personal. Sadly, our experience is not uncommon, as Chicago has seen a surge in assaults, car thefts, and homicides in recent years.

While efforts to combat urban crime often focus on social and law enforcement reforms, the role of stable family life in reducing crime often goes overlooked. Research from the Institute for Family Studies has shown that neighborhoods with stable, two-parent families experience lower crime rates, while areas with single parents and family instability see higher crime rates. Chicago, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

The impact of family stability on crime rates is significant, and it extends to future generations. Children from broken families are more likely to experience anti-social disorders and end up in the criminal justice system. As such, policies that encourage strong and stable families should be a priority for city leaders seeking to address crime.

Promoting the “success sequence” of completing high school, obtaining a full-time job, and marrying before parenthood has been shown to lead to positive outcomes, including lower crime rates. Additionally, eliminating marriage penalties in federal means-tested programs and offering vocational education and apprenticeship programs can help boost career prospects and marriageability, particularly among young men.

While family stability is not the sole factor driving crime, it is an important consideration in addressing urban crime. By realigning incentives to favor marriage and two-parent families, cities like Chicago can work towards making their communities safer.

Eddie Kornegay, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Center for Poverty Solutions at the Illinois Policy Institute, and Brad Wilcox is a professor of sociology and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. They emphasize the importance of prioritizing family stability in urban environments to address crime rates. This is an informative, content that promotes critical thinking and thoughtful conversations. Additional solutions could include eliminating marriage penalties in federal means-tested programs such as Medicaid, which discourage marriage among lower-income families. We could also offer more young adults, particularly young men, vocational education and apprenticeship programs. This would boost their career prospects, income and marriageability. To be sure, family is not the only factor driving crime. It’s clear that factors such as poverty and race also matter for crime rates. It’s also clear that political and law enforcement changes have made it easier to commit crimes here in the Chicago area. To that end, policymakers must also focus on strengthening neighborhood institutions, improving school outcomes and bolstering the effectiveness of local law enforcement. That said, it’s a disservice to those who are both victims and perpetrators of crimes to not emphasize family stability in urban environments. We must realign material and cultural incentives to favor marriage and two-parent families in our cities — not undercut them. To make Chicago safer, we must make our families stronger.

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