The debate of Hispanic crime has been going on for the past few decades. We tend to hear a plethora of stories relating to Hispanics being the perps in a lot of crimes and we paint a picture of their crime rates in our head. We do the same for black people and we do the reverse for whites and Asians, seeing a lack of crime and saying “These groups probably don’t commit a lot of crime.” But anecdotes aren’t always great – usually only useful for historical presentation and views of the public. Data is what matters but on Hispanic crime the data leaves a lot to answer.
Unz vs. Rubenstein
In 2010, conservative writer Ron Unz wrote an essay for The American Conservative called “The Myth of Hispanic Crime” where he argued Hispanics did not have crime rates that far above whites. He said the right wing hysteria about this was usually based on anecdotes and bad data. The main criticism Unz gives on the data comparing whites to Hispanics is that they don’t account for age. The average Hispanic age at the time was around 29, at the peak crime committing age, while the average white age was around 45, after their crime committing age.
So, Unz attempts to find the best data he can. The conclusion he comes to: Hispanics don’t commit much more crime than whites. The rate is somewhat higher in certain areas and also lower in certain areas. As a whole, not much higher. This is represented in this graph for example:
This evidence outraged conservatives at the time. It didn’t take long for many to write responses back, most of which Unz responded to, but was not happy about for their shrillness. One, in particular actually came through as a good response – a VDare article by Edwin Rubenstein.
Rubenstein’s article utilizes data on the incarceration rates of different racial/ethnic groups brought about by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which actually separates whites and Hispanics as perpetrators unlike the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. He states,
While the Hispanic/white differential shrinks somewhat in high-crime age brackets, it remains in the vicinity of two to one:
Sentenced male prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction, December 31, 2008 White non-Hispanic Black non-Hispanic Hispanic Number Total—all ages 477,500 562,800 295,000 Ages 25-29 66,000 102,800 60,000 Ages 30-34 70,700 96,800 54,400 Ages 35-39 75,200 90,500 45,900 Rate per 100,000 U.S. residents Total—all ages 487 3,161 1,200 Ages 25-29 1,017 7,130 2,612 Ages 30-34 1,217 8,032 2,411 Ages 35-39 1,171 7,392 2,263 Data Source: BJS, “Prisoners in 2008,” December 2009. Appendix Tables 13 and 14Note: Imprisonment rates are per residents in each population group.
Rubenstein throws this away right away though, because he admits Unz’s point against this data: it includes illegal immigrants as well as people in prison for immigrating; it does not limit itself to the crimes where there is an immediate victim or to people who got here by illegal means. Now, Rubenstein also acts like this doesn’t matter by sarcastically talking about it as if it does matter. But it does, because it doesn’t actually tell us about the real violent crime rates and property crime rates for example that we’re actually wary of.
Rubenstein then presents data to argue Hispanics commit violent crimes at a higher rate,
Sentenced Prisoners in State Prisons by race, Hispanic origin and offense, 2006 and 2006 2000 2006 Change,2000-06 % change All inmates 1,206,400 1,331,100 124,700 10.3% Violent 589,100 667,900 78,800 13.4% non-violent(a) 617,300 663,200 45,900 7.4% White, non Hispanic 436,700 474,200 37,500 8.6% Violent 212,400 227,500 15,100 7.1% non-violent(a) 224,300 246,700 22,400 10.0% Black, non Hispanic 562,000 508,700 -53,300 -9.5% Violent 273,400 267,900 -5,500 -2.0% non-violent(a) 288,600 240,800 -47,800 -16.6% Hispanic 178,500 248,900 70,400 39.4% Violent 87,100 141,600 54,500 62.6% non-violent(a) 91,400 107,300 15,900 17.4% a. Property, drugs, and other non-violent crimes. Data Source: BJS, “Prisoners in 2008,” December 2009. Table 7.
The number of Hispanics serving time for violent crimes increased by 63% in just six years, 2000 to 2006. Over the same period the number of whites incarcerated for such offenses rose by only 7.1%, while the corresponding number of Blacks actually fell by 2%.
Put differently, Hispanics account for more than half (56%) of the recent increase in violent crime. That is four times larger than their share of the adult population.
But, first of all this doesn’t address Unz’s main concern which is that the age groups are not being separated. This is not going to effectively and fairly allow us to compare crime rates by race. Unz also brings up in his response to this article how the BJS data does not take into account the people incarcerated in local jails which is what Unz analyzed.
Unz addresses the argument at the end that Hispanics are largely responsible for the increase in violent crime,
“Much more importantly, a central argument of my article had been that ethnic criminality is best inferred not from raw incarceration statistics but from incarceration rates relative to the size of the high-crime age ethnic population; and even just during the few years from 2000-2006, there was actually a substantial change in the relative numbers of Hispanic and white males aged 15-44 (a demographic trend which should come as no great surprise to regular VDare readers!).
Based on the Census/ACS data, the number of white males in that age range dropped by almost 10% during those years, while the corresponding number of Hispanics increased by around 15%. Thus, the age-adjusted increase in violent white inmates was actually between 15 and 20% and for Hispanics was about 40%. Although we still find a significant divergence in white/Hispanic violent criminals, simply adjusting for age cuts the nominal gap in half.”
To be fair, Unz doesn’t adequately address the rest of the 20%, but we will ignore that for now.
For now, it seems Rubenstein’s 2010 article does not argue against Unz’s essay very well. The data he presents either includes the people we shouldn’t be concerned with for America’s safety or conflates age groups with each other whilst ignoring the adequate points Unz makes against this.
Later, Edwin Rubenstein utilized NCVS data to write The Color of Crime 2016. This study analyzed crime data by race/ethnicity in Chicago, New York City, and in California. In New York City, the Hispanic multiple of white arrest rate ranged from 1.9x for grand larceny to 23.6x for shooting. In Chicago, the Hispanic multiple of the white arrest rate ranged from 1.2 for larceny to 6.7 for murder.
Unz took this data as pretty critical and to be very good. But first of all, for every area except the state of California, the rates were not age-adjusted. For California, Unz notes, the multiples for Hispanics were not too far off from Unz’s estimates. They were also not very much higher than the white rate and nowhere near as high as the black rate. In violent crimes, Hispanics on average only had a multiple of 1.4 times the white rate.
Unz also notes the varying heterogeneity in Hispanics of all these areas. In Unz’s original essay he writes areas that are more Carribean will have higher crime rates while Meso-Americans don’t seem to have that problem. This hypothesis might hold. Chicago’s Hispanic community is nearly 75% Mexican, followed by Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, and Guatemalans, the only group from the Carribean from this being Puerto Ricans which was 15% of all Latinos there. New York Hispanics are over 58% Caribbean and California is only 11% non-Mexican. The crime multiples seem to match up somewhat to these Caribbean percentages.
It seems odd this would be causation. Mexico’s crime rates are massively higher than Puerto Rico’s. But for now, we can accept it as one theory as to why the crime rates differ between these areas. Of course this also shows you can’t say all Hispanics have low rates of crime – Caribbean Hispanics are still an issue but you can say Meso-Americans may not commit so much crime.
Overall, the Unz-Rubenstein debate does not go to Rubenstein’s favor. Unz’s arguments about the age groupings still have to be disputed and of course haven’t been. Worth noting as well, using state by state data isn’t the best for finding correlations because of massive differences in lifestyles among states – California and Texas being the biggest examples of this. But using California, we still find Hispanic crime rates are not much higher than white rates, especially in comparison to blacks.
Current Available Data
One source for current data is the 2012-2015 BJS report on race and Hispanic origin of offenders. Between 2012-2015 there wasn’t a huge change in crime among groups and the change there was stayed consistent among the different groups. We find whites (over the age of 12; this applies to each group) commit 43.8% of violent offenses while making up 65% of the population, Hispanics commit 14.4% of violent offenses while making up roughly 15.6% of the population, and blacks commit 22.7% of violent offenses while making up around 12.3% of the population.
This means nationally, Hispanics commit about 1.37x as many violent crimes as whites and blacks commit about 2.7x as many violent crime as whites. This disparity would shrink for Hispanics even more if we were to adjust the ages as pointed out in Unz’s original article. The average age of whites is around 45 while the average age of Hispanics is in the late twenties putting sharp differences in overall violent crime rates.
More accurately, in the study we get solid numbers of offenses by ethnicity:
This gives us a crime rate of about 20.3/1000 among Hispanics and of about 33/1000 for whites. This means Hispanics as a whole were committing less violent crimes (that didn’t end in death) per capita than whites, 1.6x as much less. Once again, this is only for people above the age of 12; this doesn’t give us estimates by age group.
We could use the FBI Uniform Crime Report’s Expanded Homicide Table. This table lists Hispanics as their own group. But they note it’s still taking in every single agencies data. Most agencies still group Hispanics in with whites as perpetrators. The flaw with this is it is going to be adding Hispanic homicides in to the white homicides and understating the amount of Hispanic homicides, which is especially problematic. We can test this for now, but these results should be taken with half a grain of salt.
“Whites” would have produced a national homicide rate of 1.6/100,000. Hispanics would have produced a national homicide rate of 1.5/100,000. But, as we’ve stated, this does underestimate the amount of homicides committed by Hispanics and overestimate the amount of homicides committed by whites. So, it’s not a perfect test. But, given this particular data, we would see Hispanics nationally commit about the same homicides per capita as whites.
The BJS provides 2016 data on sentenced prisoners, divided by age, race/Hispanic origin, and sex. Since Hispanics are made up of more of an immigrant population than whites, it’s fair to bet they are slightly more male based. So, we will focus on the male population of whites, blacks, and Hispanics between the ages of 18-29. Of course, this data does not control for immigration crimes, so it will overstate the amount of crimes with a victim.
Among the Hispanic population, there were 93,000 sentenced prisoners, compared to 82,000 among whites, and 139,100 among blacks. I can then use Census data from 2016 to estimate the populations and come up with sentencing rates. In 2016, there were about 4.25M blacks in this group. This would put the black males (age 18-29) overall crime rate at 32.7/1000. Whites in this group amounted to about 21 million people. This puts their overall crime rate at 3.9/1000. Then Hispanics in this group came out to around a population of 6.1 million, putting their overall crime rate at 15.2/1000.
This isn’t anything new to us, besides the fact that we see it in this age range. Other sources have addressed the multiple of white prison incarceration by the total adult population. This multiple is constant in the 18-29 year old age range. But of course, this is problematic due to immigration crimes, overstayed Visas, and border crossings and doesn’t focus on violent crime rates.
Something under-utilized is the available (but somewhat hard for me to find) percentage of Hispanics incarcerated for immigration offenses – 48%. This still puts the Hispanic federal incarceration rate at 7.3/1000 – 1.8x the white rate. This is still a significant improvement over previous data’s estimates. This may still be limited because this “48%” number applies to the group as a whole. This may be larger for the 18-29 year old group as they are the majority of immigrants coming in.
Hispanics probably commit more crimes per capita than whites in America. It’s odd for them to have very high crime rates in their own countries and then come here and all of a sudden stop doing so. But the extent to these high crime rates is largely over-exaggerated.
In California, the multiples of white violent crime rates only go up to around 2.5x. The rest of the data available to us is rather muddled with issues to be cautious of. For federal incarceration rates, the best we have is that Hispanics commit roughly 1.8x as many crimes as whites and this is likely an “at most” estimate. Other sources such as the BJS put the Hispanic violent crime rate as only slightly above or maybe below the white rate – even these numbers overexaggerate Hispanic violent crime as they aren’t adjusted for age.
The only way we will have an answer to this question is if someone truly answers it. A real study must be done and at the very least we must be forcing police departments to separate Hispanics and whites as well as age and gender differences. Finally, as the Hispanic age goes up, we will likely see average crime differences between whites and Hispanics start to go away. This isn’t a reason to not be against immigration – this is simply clearing the data up. For now, the number is still kind of up in the air, but we know it is likely not as portrayed by the right at all.