Steven D. Levitt can be credited with producing the most widely read research on Gang finances. He was able to use informants from gangs to provide sample details of the economics and driving force behind gangs. Black Economics reviews his report and concludes that people involved in drug dealing need to be rescued. The promise of future lucrative earnings can be the driving force for some, but we all know how elusive that can be,
On average earnings from gang activities are somewhat above minimum wage. However earnings are highly skewed, with those at the top earning the most, and the runners at the bottom on meagre earnings in comparison to minimum wage levels. IT follows that economic factors alone are unlikely to adequately explain individual participation in the gang, or gang behaviour.
Street gangs have a long history in America. There are recorded in history from 1927. Everybody knows of gangs which last way into adulthood such as the Italian MAFIA and the Chinese TRIADs. Fortunately most gangs today do not last beyond a few years.
A study in 1988 and 1922, suggest that gang members pursue financial activities in response to alienation from legitimate labour markets. They have found it difficult to get a job. Many have not even tried, because they have no qualifications for the jobs they would like to do, or have no connections for the entertainment or sporting industry they might crave to be in, which require of course – no educational qualifications.
The other minimum wage jobs which are available, they do not want to do. Its below their street cred.
Research showed that 7% of gang members involved in drug selling are likely to die simply from being involved. Disputes which lead to death, are frequently over territory, nonpayment of funds due, or over a woman. The child mortality (children under 1) rate of the US is 0.7%. The teen mortality rate is about 0.0007%
It follows that as a teenager, you are 10,000 times more likely to die if you are in a gang, than not. In short, you are more likely to die from gang activity, than to win the lottery. Some teens who have been hard to control at school or at home, learn very hard lessons in “respect” once they become involved in gangs.
Given the relatively low financial returns to drug selling for the majority, why do youth risk imprisonment or death to be involved in gangs and drugs. Many countries have a zero tolerance to drug handling, so there if you are caught, its straight to jail, no bail, and a prolonged prison sentence. Most black people caught in any misdemeanor, be it drugs or otherwise, do not have the funds to afford a decent lawyer, so they are 100% likely to go down, once they are arrested.
Gangs are typically found in poor areas. Many are divided along racial lines. The causes are similar, No money, fractured turbulent family life, unemployment rate 6 times the national average, of 40% or more. People comfort themselves in groups, and find something quick and easy to sell. Some like the excitement. For some its the only way they can get friends. For others, its the norm in the neighbourhood. You either join a gang or don’t live there.
Gangs always have leaders. They are responsible for collecting dues, overseeing recruitment of new members, allocating punishments, and serving as liaisons to the community. Roughly one-third of these leaders are imprisoned at any given time. If only this leadership could be channelled for good.
There is one bright spark in all of this. Involvement in a gang is usually short lived. If a gang leader and his officers are arrested, the gang becomes weakened and beset by infighting, and can be overpowered by rival gangs. Many gang members will join other gangs or some will abandon drug dealing all together. Some will see the error of their ways through local community mentoring groups or churches. Perhaps, 8 years later than the average young person, they might decide to finish their education and get a legitimate job. Unfortunately, they will find the doors of professional jobs closed to them if they have a criminal record.