Correlation ‘between remote learning and the rise in carjackings’: Is Chicago mayor right?

Morning in America

Fact Box

  • Lori Elaine Lightfoot has served as the 56th mayor of Chicago since 2019. Previously, she was President of the Chicago Police Board and held positions in the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications. 
  • On February 7, 2022, during a news conference Mayor Lightfoot asserted, “I’ll be frank and say in Chicago, there was a correlation that we believe in remote learning and the rise in carjacking” in reference to the latest task force addressing the issue. 
  • In response to the mayor, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement, “Every child in our public schools in Chicago deserves an apology from the mayor today [...] To suggest that our students are somehow disproportionately responsible for these crimes is precisely the kind of scapegoating and smear tactics Black and Brown students and adults have had to contend with in any discourse about crime for generations.”
  • The Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago experienced spikes in violent crime, recording over 800 homicides in 2021 and 1,415 carjackings in 2020. Data reviewed shows that there were 148 carjackings weeks before remote learning started, which was a 68% increase from 2019. 
  • Chicago Public Schools committed to remote learning on August 5, 2020 based on public health data and “survey results from parents” uncomfortable with sending their children to school. By January 2022, CPU canceled classes after 73% of members of the teachers union voted to refuse in-person learning.

Siam (No)

Anyone in touch with the news would be cautious about driving a car in Chicago this day and age; the city has seen a serious surge in carjackings since the start of the COVID pandemic. Besides Chicago, other cities like New York, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia have also faced the same problem. There were over 1,900 carjackings in Chicago alone in 2021, a 30% increase since 2020. But Mayor Lightfoot is wrong to believe this problem is remotely related to remote learning.

While it's true about 50% of individuals arrested for carjackings in Chicago are juveniles, there are still 50% of adults who commit the same crime, who are way past school age. The hypothesis falls apart. The Mayor never discussed with the teachers union that students need to move back to school to reduce crime. Further, there are no large-scale studies to show that remote learning is linked to carjackings or, for that matter, any other crime. Major Lightfoot has repeatedly failed to divulge her reasoning for this statement. As a mayor who is supposed to be guiding the citizens, she should at least have real hard data to support her claim. 

Likewise, carjackings were on the increase in Chicago before remote learning even took place a year ago. The Chicago Sun reported that before students went remote, the city had 148 carjackings through March 2020, a 68% increase compared to the same period in 2019. Now that the students have returned to school, carjackings remain a major issue. Mayor Lightfoot has completely ignored other causes of crime, such as the breakdown of family and marriage, single motherhood and fatherlessness, poverty, reduced policing (which increases crime in vulnerable communities), soft-on-crime sentences, and Defund the Police movement as the real problems.

Elizabeth (Yes)

While it's true correlation doesn't always equal causation, Chicago's Mayor Lightfoot makes a good argument regarding the correlation between the dramatic increase in Chicago carjackings and the, until extremely recently, ongoing remote schooling of Chicago's public school (CPS) children. 

Understandably, the Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU) took offense at this, but being offended doesn't automatically remove potential guilt. The truth is CPS has been operating through remote learning far more than in-class since the start of the pandemic. And 2020 saw an increase in Chicago carjackings over 100%, with 2021 having an increase of approximately 50% in juvenile arrests for the same. 

Chicago has an under-18 population of a little over 600,000. Of this, about half attend public schools. This means more than 300,000 children have been limited to primarily online education for the majority of the past two years. Given that, according to CPS's own statistics, more than 60% are economically disadvantaged; consequently, there are upwards of 200,000 Chicago students who very likely must be left alone during the school day as their parents are obligated to go to work. One study indicates since 2020, roughly 32,000 students have been 'habitually truant,' meaning they missed four or more weeks of school. If youths fall in with the wrong crowd and/or have little parental oversight, it stands to reason they are far more inclined to ditch the online instruction and go do something more 'interesting' (legal or not). 

If CTU wants to remove any possibility of further comparisons, they need to keep schools open. Though the likelihood of a concurrent drop in carjackings seems high, thus bolstering Lightfoot's argument.

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