There was a recent conference in Milwaukee on violence in the central city. The "Misery in Our Midst" forum was hosted by Rep. Gwen Moore who invited, among others, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Cal.) to speak. Rep. Waters apparently thought the key to the matter was that she could walk outside the hall and get a gun in ten minutes, but could not get a job in ten minutes.
Catchy, I suppose, but what does it really mean? Not, I think, what she intended.
I don't know that Rep. Waters could get a gun in ten minutes, but I do know that she could not get one legally. I also know that, in most parts of the city and metropolitan area, you cannot even get a gun illegally in ten minutes - and maybe not at all.
So if she is right, the observation reflects a certain degree of of lawlessness that does not seem to be present elsewhere. If true, it's not because the area in which the meeting was held is heavily African-American. There are areas in Milwaukee with lots of African-Americans (my sister lives in one) where I suspect you'd be arrested long before you ever got an illegal gun.
A culture of lawlessness certainly may be - probably is - related to poverty, but this is where Rep. Waters statement begins to turn in on itself. Which way does causation run?
Let's stipulate that poverty contributes to crime, although we should acknowledge that there was a time in Milwaukee when discrimination was much more pervasive and the poverty rate much higher, yet the crime rate was a fraction of what it is today.
But the fact that poverty causes crime does not mean that one can reduce poverty without reducing crime first. As long as Rep. Waters is not safe outside that hall, it is unlikely that the surrounding neighborhood will ever enjoy economic prosperity. Just as poverty can cause crime, crime can cause poverty.
The second part of Rep. Waters comparison reinforces the point. It is a false and misleading contrast.
it is not reasonable to think that one ought to be able to get a job as quickly as one can engage in an illegal transaction. Certainly, external conditions affect the availability of jobs and the ease of getting one. But jobs are not entirely a thing that happens - or is just given - to you without regard to what you do to prepare yourself for one.
If you grow up in an area wracked by violent crime, family breakdown and social chaos, getting yourself to a place where you are likely to get a good job becomes very difficult.
It would be wrong to think that addressing poverty is simply a matter of addressing crime or family breakdown (neither of which are simple). But doing something about them would probably do more than the pile of acronyms that provide job training and other "services" today. To rule out even talking about the problem because it is "blaming the victim" is to ensure that Rep. Waters observation will continue to be true and misery will remain in our midst.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin.