Parents who lost children to gun violence gather at Chicago police headquarters to demand that Chicago police detectives solve their cases. [Photo by Carlos Javier Ortiz / Wonderful Machine]

Chicago has become America’s homicide leader–and by plenty.

In 2012, not only did Chicago lead the nation in homicides, it witnessed nearly 100 more murders than New York City, even though the Big Apple has three times as many residents. And Chicago witnessed 215 more murders than Los Angeles–home to more than a million more people.

But Chicago’s homicide epidemic is a youth homicide epidemic–young people killing and young people dying.

[View photos from the Too Young to Die Project: Dying Landscapes]

From 2008 through 2012, nearly half of Chicago’s 2,389 homicide victims were killed before their 25th birthdays. In 2011, the most recent year for which the data were available, more than 56 percent of individuals who committed murder were also under 25. One-third of Chicago residents are under 25, according to 2011 Census estimates.

And despite various police strategies and community efforts, things are getting worse. Last year, 243 people under 25 were killed in Chicago. That’s an 11 percent increase over 2011 and a 26 percent jump from 2010.

What’s more is that this epidemic is occurring mostly in Chicago’s most disadvantaged communities, the same neighborhoods already ravaged by a host of other social ills, particularly during the past decade or so.

Here’s a snapshot:

The city’s 21 leading communities for youth homicides, all majority-black or majority-Latino communities on the city’s South, Southwest and West sides, account for just 32 percent of the city’s residents. But they also account for:

  • More than 73 percent of the city’s 1,118 homicide victims under the age of 25 from 2008 through 2012
  • Almost 70 percent of Chicago’s population loss between 2000 and 2010. Those 21 communities collectively lost 140,000 residents during that time. The city as a whole lost 200,000 residents
  • More than 53 percent of the locations of Chicago public school closings announced since 2001
  • Nearly 43 percent of Chicago’s 109,000 foreclosure filings from January 2007 through June 2012
  • More than 71 percent of the city’s 138 public elementary schools that were low-performing in math [“Low-performing” is defined as schools where fewer than 10 percent of students’ standardized test scores exceeded state standards during the 2011-2012 school year]
  • Nearly 68 percent of the 221 Chicago public elementary schools that were low-performing in reading
  • Nearly 59 percent of the 46 public high schools whose average 11th grade ACT composite scores were below 16
  • More than 56 percent of the city’s 72,296 teen births from 1999 through 2009

Furthermore, these communities also have heightened levels of poverty, unemployment and percentages of adults without high school diplomas.

There are certainly no easy answers to remedying the carnage afflicting Chicago’s young people. Expanding efforts and resources to address the blight, joblessness, academic under-achievement, and instability of schools, homes and businesses could provide a much-needed boost. So far, well-intended traditional police strategies, candlelight vigils and stop-the-violence campaigns have not been enough to stem the flow of bloodshed in Chicago’s most impacted communities.

It is far beyond the time to sound the alarm.

Youth Homicides

There were 1,118 people younger than 25 killed between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2012.

Source: RedEye data collected from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Breaking News Center; analyzed by The Chicago Reporter. Click here to download data from the map.

This is part of an occasional series on youth violence. Read the introduction to series, the second installment about a family’s struggle with the impacts of violence, the third installment about the work of two community groups and the fourth installment about a grassroots organization that pairs young musicians with professional producers.

This piece was supported by grants from the Open Society Foundations and the California Endowment National Health Journalism Fellowship, a program of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Funding for previous installments of the Too Young to Die series was provided by The Chicago Community Trust via the Community Media Workshop, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.

Alden is the senior editor of WBEZ's race, class and communities desk. Previously, he served as the director of research and evaluation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, investigator and later as...