Preschoolers and older minority women are at increasing risk of being killed in an America where murder rates hover near record levels, according to a new private analysis.
Minority teenagers and young men have the nation’s highest homicide rate, according to a study released Wednesday by the independent Population Reference Bureau.
The study, “Homicide in the United States: Who’s At Risk,” combed a half-century of data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Among the findings were that murder rates were up significantly for elderly minority women and preschoolers.
“We don’t want to give the impression that every young child is at risk … but this does raise the question of whether we need to be more protective of children,” said Carol J. De Vita of PRB.
Some of the increase may be a result of more child abuse cases being reported, she said. “Now when a child dies it’s more likely to be investigated as an abuse death.”
But the figures do show a trend, De Vita concluded.
“Fatalities due to child abuse and neglect certainly have risen,” said Joy Byers of the Chicago-based National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse.
“Parents who are under extreme stress … sometimes lash out at children. Certainly substance abuse has caused havoc with families and that’s been an increasing problem,” she added. “Families where there is substance abuse are much more likely to neglect children.”
Stella Ogata of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington agreed that “cases of child abuse and neglect have been going up and up and up over the years.”
For minority children age 4 and under the 1990 murder rates were 8.9 homicides per 100,000 for boys and 8.6 for girls. Both have been climbing steadily since 1950 when they were 2.4 for both sexes.
For white youngsters the rates climbed from 1.0 to 2.7 for boys and from 1.2 to 2.1 for girls.
The report also found that “older non-white women, particularly those ages 75 and older … have become much more vulnerable to the risk of being killed.”
For these women, the 1990 murder rate of 11.7 per 100,000 was sharply higher than that of a decade earlier when it was 6.7.
De Vita said the increasing independence of older people may be a factor, placing them more at risk, especially when they live by themselves in neighborhoods that have seen an increase in crime.
Overall, De Vita said the study found that America is maintaining a “subculture of violence.”
There is a perception that there has been a sharp increase in crime in recent years, yet the current murder rate of 10.0 per 100,000 people is not so different from the 9.8 recorded in 1933, the first year for which reliable statistics are available, she said.
In between there was a period of lower homicide rates, held down by World War II and the boom of the 1950s, with murders increasing again in the early 1960s.
The 1950s were an unusual time, she said, suggesting that the period’s economic growth and the settling back to home life after the war held down homicides.
The highest homicide rate was in 1980, when there were 10.7 homicides per 100,000.
Now, murder among teenagers is at record levels, De Vita said. The growth in drugs and drug sales are a major reason, she speculated.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department released a new study that shows children who grow up in violent families are twice as likely to commit violent acts during adolescence than children who grow up in families without a history of violence.
The study showed that 38 percent of adolescents from non-violent families reported involvement in violent delinquent acts, while 78 percent of adolescents exposed to family violence reported involvement in violent delinquent acts.
The Population Reference Bureau report found that while minorities have a much higher murder rate than whites, the gap has been narrowing in recent years.
For men the murder rate for whites was 4.0 in 1969-71 compared to 76.4 for non-whites. By 1989-91 the rates were 8.8 for whites and 53.7 for minorities. For white women, the rate in 1969-71 was 2.2 compared with 14.5 for non-whites. By 1989-91, the rates were 2.8 and 11.3.