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Montefiore in the News

November 23, 2021

Youth living in high poverty counties can be more than four times likely to die from gun violence than peers living in more affluent areas, a new study finds.

By Steven Ross Johnson |Nov. 23, 2021

Police investigate the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn on June 23, 2021 in New York City.(SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES)

New research finds gun violence disproportionately impacts young people living in low-income counties, and that the risk of dying from firearms rises as the concentration of poverty in those communities increases. The study, published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, found 62% of the more than 67,000 firearm-related deaths that occurred among youth between the ages of 5 and 24 from 2007 to 2016 occurred in counties where the percentage of residents who lived below the federal poverty level was 15% or greater.

The annual rate of total firearm-related deaths among youth increased from 8.5 for every 100,000 residents in 2007 to 9.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2016.

The rate of gun-related deaths was more than four times higher among young people living in counties with the highest concentrated poverty than with youth living in counties with the lowest concentration of poverty. The study defined counties with the highest poverty level as those where at least 20% of the population earned below the federal poverty threshold, and those with the lowest concentration of poverty as those where 5% or fewer of residents lived below the federal poverty level. Youth living in counties with populations of 20% or more living below the federal poverty level represented only 15% of the young people yet accounted for 22% of total firearm-related deaths, including a quarter of homicides and accidental deaths and 15% of suicides throughout the study period.

Study lead author Dr. Jefferson Barrett, co-director of simulation in the pediatric emergency medicine division at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine at Montefiore Health System in New York, says he hopes the findings will encourage stakeholders to find new approaches to addressing youth gun violence that focus on alleviating the socioeconomic issues that put them at greater risk.

“The hope is that pediatricians, public health doctors and advocates can use these findings to advocate for change,” Barrett says. “When we’re thinking of things we can do to reduce violence, if we concentrate them on high-poverty areas then hopefully we can make more of an impact.” Firearms were the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for 17.4 deaths for every 100,000 individuals.

More than 42,000 of gun-related deaths that occurred between 2007 and 2016 were homicides, according to the JAMA study, with 34% of youth gun deaths caused by suicide and 2.4% deemed accidental. Youth living in counties with the highest poverty level had a homicide rate 6.3 times higher than people in counties with the lowest poverty concentration in 2007. That disparity increased threefold to 21 times higher in 2016.

Black youth had the highest rate of firearm-related deaths throughout the study period, going from 27.3 deaths for every 100,000 in 2007 to 30 for every 100,000 in 2016. Alaska Native and American Indian youth had the highest rates of suicide by guns with 5.7 deaths for every 100,000 in 2007, which increased to 6.3 deaths for every 100,000 in 2016.

Barrett says the factors that contribute to the association of poverty and gun violence are varied and require more study to identify. He says the problem could get worse as a result of the pandemic. The economic impact of COVID-19 led to the first increase in the country’s poverty rate in five years, rising from 10.5% in 2019 to 11.4% in 2020, according to a September 2021 report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Dr. Chethan Sathya, director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention at Northwell Health system in New York, says the study reiterates what has been known for years about the link between poverty and gun violence and the disproportionate impact it has on certain communities. Sathya has no connection to the JAMA study.

He says Northwell Health along with many other health systems have conducted patient screenings over the past several years to identify social concerns they may be experiencing, like food insecurity or housing instability, to help connect them to social support services. Sathya says doctors need to get more comfortable having conversations with their patients who have been victims of gun violence to find ways to help them address potential socioeconomic risk factors that could reduce their chance of further injury or death.

“They really go hand-in-hand, whether you’re talking about poverty, social inequity, or gun violence, these are really dueling public health crises,” Sathya says. “You can’t solve one without solving the other.”

Tags: gun control and gun rightsviolencedeathpovertyUnited States