Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?

Levitt and Dubner challenge the notion promoted by American media that the life of a drug dealer is glamorous and rewarding.  Crack dealers are most often found in decrepit housing projects and living in poverty, not sailing on yachts or throwing lavish parties at their mansions.  The authors thus seek to find an explanation for why so many people are willing to risk their lives in a dangerous profession where the average foot soldier earns only $3.30 an hour.  Drawing from Venkatesh Sidur’s time with the Black Gangster Disciple Nation, they come to the conclusion that drug dealers were merely responding to incentives; “to the kids growing up in the housing project on Chicago’s south side, crack dealing seemed like a glamour profession” (95).

They consider drug dealing glamorous because if they excel in this extremely competitive field, the rewards are enormous.  One of the telling statistics in this chapter is that 2.2% of the Black Disciples organization “took home well more than half the money” (93).  This statistic is important to understanding why so many drug dealers are poor, yet so many poor people want to be drug dealers.  With such a small percentage of the organization controlling the vast majority of the money, the lower ranks had a little money to divide amongst a lot of people.  But the fact that someone could earn enough money to have multiple cars, houses and women was incredibly alluring.  Simply put, dealing crack offered people the chance to escape the projects, however unlikely it was.

Three statistics on the following page convey the risk of being a gang member and drug dealer.  Over a four year period, the average number of times a member of the Black Disciple could expect to be arrested was 5.9, the number of nonfatal injuries was 2.4 and there was 25% chance of being killed.  In other words, “you stand a greater chance of dying while dealing crack in a Chicago housing project than you do while sitting on death row in Texas” (94).  These numbers demonstrate the consequences of desperate attempts to improve one’s life by trying to win this “tournament.”  They also further the argument posed by Levitt and Dubner that drug dealers in reality face a life of destitution.

The median income of $15,000 per year in the area Venkatesh studied further sets the reality of drug dealing into perspective (95).  Children experienced poverty at a rate three times the national average, many lived in single-parent homes and college graduates were exceedingly rare.  Landing a job as a janitor at the University of Chicago was considerable feat.  Such a low median income is symptomatic of life in a neighborhood where “the path to a decent job was practically invisible” (95).  With this in mind, it is no wonder there was such a high propensity to consider the drug trade as a career.  People on the south side of Chicago were merely responding to the incentives one could enjoy by excelling in the drug trade and believed they could not be any worse off than they already were.  In other words, the potential benefits far outweighed the costs.

One final statistic reveals the consequences of the crack boom: “the homicide rate among urban blacks quadrupled” (103).  Drug dealing is a competitive business and violence is one way to gain stature and enhance prospects for promotion.  In addition, turf wars between rival gangs ignited to determine control of street corners and thus the stream of profits.  This statistic also signifies the regressive effect that the crack boom has had on urban black communities.  As more people turned to drug dealing, the more competitive it became.  The prospects for advancement became even meeker and violence escalated as drug dealers attempted to assert their primacy.  Together with the other three statistics mentioned above, Levitt and Dubner paint a grim picture of drug dealers.  Rather than jumping into a life of luxury, Levitt and Dubner show that drug dealers are all but resigning themselves to a life of poverty and violence.

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