The ‘Crime Rush’ Is Deepening the Nation’s Divisions

California enjoyed rapid population growth during the Gold Rush of the 1800s. Now, the Golden State is suffering the opposite: the Crime Rush of the 2000s. California represents a national trend in which people and businesses are fleeing states where governments punish achievement, encourage theft and violence, and erode the quality of life.

Red-state residents worry the exodus from blue states will turn their governments over to Democratic politicians who will impose the same policies that made California, New York, and Illinois unbearable. The more likely scenario is that this reshuffling of the population will make red states more powerful while increasing America’s political, economic, and cultural divisions.

In 1993, Republicans comprised about one-third of the electorate in Los Angeles; last year, they were barely 16 percent. Republicans are moving out.

That is equally true of other crime-plagued cities such as Chicago, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.— all of which are under Democratic control with no realistic prospect of political change.

New Yorkers are reeling from the latest high-profile incident, in which a man with 42 arrests and an outstanding warrant was tragically killed in a choke hold after threatening a car full of subway riders, the latter being a common occurrence in the Big Apple. Such high-profile cases show peace-loving residents that they have no recourse but to escape as quickly as they can—to leave the city and even the state where they have lived for decades.

Although taxes are an important factor in these moves, there was not nearly as much blue- to red-state migration before 2020. The changes in policing and prosecution policies that began in the late 2010s have accelerated, and the public is increasingly feeling their effects as governments reduce the likelihood that people who commit crimes will be caught and, if apprehended, punished.

The 2021 National Crime Victimization Survey shows the rate of violent crime has been rising in urban areas and not in suburbs or rural areas. This is a big-city phenomenon, and it is concentrated in Democrat-run cities.

The increase in crime has enormous ripple effects through economic destruction. Carjackings are a terrifying prospect, making people reluctant to venture into areas where they once felt comfortable shopping, dining, and going to movies and plays. Shoplifters are ransacking retail outlets as prosecutors decline to punish people who steal thousands of dollars’ worth of goods from stores. Those stores soon close for obvious reasons.

Meanwhile, restaurants, entertainment services, and social gathering venues such as parks and museums are further undermined by the rise of muggings and other street violence, much of which goes unreported because it seems pointless to bother when the criminals are not prosecuted. The violence in city schools is an additional worry.

This mass destruction of the social fabric removes major attractions of city life and disconnects residents from the local culture. That makes it even easier to consider a move.

The Crime Rush creates a spiral of decline. The closing of businesses and the decisions of companies not to move into these violent cities lowers the tax base. The decrease in revenue makes it increasingly difficult to provide needed services and reduce crime even if the government decides to change its policies. Moreover, some cities are escalating their crime-friendliness, as exemplified by new Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who said in 2020 that defunding the police is “an actual, real political goal.” This will accelerate the exodus, and the tax base will deteriorate further.

Increasingly, those remaining in the blue cities will be the very wealthy and the unemployed, both of whom are less sensitive to tax rates and can afford measures to protect themselves from crime (the former) or cannot afford to move (the latter). The people moving to the red states and cities will be relatively economically productive, and those with children will be especially prone to migrate.

That will further reduce the quality of life in blue cities and raise the economic power of red states. Eventually, the wealthiest people in Democrat-run cities will get hit harder and harder by the tax collector and will call it quits as well. This has already happened in places like Baltimore, Detroit, and St. Louis.

The conventional wisdom has been that the migration, this national Crime Rush, will reduce Republican control and increase Democratic Party power in current red states. The more likely scenario is that the people fleeing the blue cities and states will be those with more traditional values and lifestyles and whose household budgets are sensitive to tax rates—as the emigration of Republicans from Los Angeles indicates. 

All of this may create pressure for a reversal of the policies that brought on destruction in the big cities under the reign of crime-friendly Democrats. It will take time for the latter to learn this lesson, however, as history shows. The people in those cities will suffer badly in the meantime, and the movement of economic and political power from blue to red states will accelerate.

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