Jun 2021

How the Pandemic is Accelerating Carjackings in Chicago

Jens Ludwig

In 2020, Chicago saw more carjackings than in the previous two years combined. In our June Data Points column in the Chicago Tribune, we explore what is behind the recent surge. One much discussed (and debated) argument is that young people, teens particularly, are driving the increase. Taken together, evidence from carjacking arrest data, victim estimates of suspect age, clearance rates, and arrest trends in other cities indicate that increased youth involvement is driving the uptick in carjackings. This growing youth involvement suggests that the pandemic may be contributing to the rise in carjackings but not as a result of what many in the public might have assumed — economic dislocation. We see in the data, for example, that youth involved in carjacking are more likely to live in areas with lower internet access and school attendance, especially during the pandemic. We also show that Chicago is currently missing many potential contact points with these youth that could be used to, for instance, connect them to social services at a time when they need them most.

In any data analysis, there are many detailed decisions to make due to uncertainties or intrinsic limitations to the data themselves, as well as reasonable alternative choices about how to analyze and present the results. Because of limited space in the Datapoints column, we have omitted many of those details and sensitivity analyses from the published version. We provide those additional details here.

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