Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new study links growth in African American entrepreneurship to a decline in black youth violence between 1990 and 2000.
African American communities are often seen through a narrow lens of negatives: unemployment, poverty, and crime. While those problems do plague majority-black neighborhoods, they often overshadow more positive trends in these communities, says sociologist Karen F. Parker of the University of Delaware.
One such trend recently tracked by Parker is the opening of small businesses by black entrepreneurs. In a new study published in Urban Affairs Review, Parker reports that a growth of African American-owned businesses was strongly linked to a reduction in black youth violence between 1990 to 2000.
"We should not assume that African Americans within the community aren’t there, aren’t invested, aren’t contributing to their community," says Parker. "We don’t really take into account all that African Americans are doing in their communities to better [them]."
In her study, Parker used Census data to track the growth of black-owned businesses in more than 100 large U.S. cities between 1990 and 2000—a decade when the national crime rate dropped. She then isolated the impact of black business ownership on the rate of youth violence by controlling for other other factors like employment levels, and poverty rates. Her careful analysis found that as the number of black-owned businesses rose, local black youth violence declined over the decade.
"I think we can say it is more than a correlation," she says.
Parker offers two explanations for these findings. One is that black-owned businesses act as "social buffers": their owners serve as role models to young people and create social networks that shield and divert youth people from a life of crime. Another reason is that black businesses mitigate some of the economic factors that contribute to youth violence in these communities. They add jobs, provide employment opportunities, and generally improve the neighborhood.
But starting businesses in these communities isn't easy. African Americans often don't have the same kind of access to small-business loans as other racial groups. Parker says that given the positive effect African American businesses have on their communities, it might be time for a shift in policy focus. Last week, for instance, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake urged the city's black community to "step up" and help put an end to "black on black crime." What Parker's study suggests is that cities themselves can step up to this task by supporting black entrepreneurs.