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Low-Income Nonwhites in U.S. Feel as Safe as Nicaraguans

by Sofia Kluch

This is the first in a two-part series that looks at perceptions of safety from different groups of Americans in contrast to perceptions of safety around the world.

In Gallup's latest Global Law and Order Report, we examined perceptions of safety around the world, which yielded unique insights into geographically and culturally diverse populations. Looking deeper into two key components of Gallup's Law and Order Index -- feeling safe walking alone at night in the area you live in and confidence in local police -- we see that important subgroups of Americans are as likely to say they feel safe as do people living in countries that Americans may perceive as more dangerous than their own.

To illustrate this, 56% of the residents of Bulgaria, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe report feeling safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live. The percentage is the same for nonwhite Americans living in households making $48,000 a year or less.

Overall, 73% of Americans Gallup surveyed between 2015 and 2017 reported feeling safe walking alone at night in the area where they live. That percentage is higher for white Americans (77%) compared with nonwhite Americans (63%).

Poverty further exacerbates these racial divisions. Among very low-income Americans -- those in households making $24,000 a year or less -- 67% of white Americans reported feeling safe, compared with 53% of nonwhites, highlighting differences at the intersection of poverty and race in America.

Percentages of Whites and Nonwhites Who Feel Safe Walking Alone at Night in the City or Area Where They Live
% Yes, feel safe
Whites Nonwhites
% %
Household income
$24,000 or less 67 53
$24,001 to $48,000 75 61
$48,001 to $72,000 84 *
$72,001 to $108,000 85 *
$108,001 and above 88 *
Lower income: $48,000 or less 71 56
Higher income: 48,001+ 86 75
* Insufficient sample sizes for reporting nonwhite respondents at individual income levels between $48,000 and $108,001 and above
Gallup World Poll

But higher incomes do not necessarily insulate people of color in the U.S. from experiences that leave them feeling unsafe in their communities. This is evident in recent stories of people of color being discriminated against at Starbucks, playing golf and enjoying vacations at a high-end resort. Among middle- and higher-income white Americans (those making more than $48,000 a year) there is still a difference by race, with 86% of white Americans reporting feeling safe, compared with 75% of nonwhite Americans making more than $48,000.

Nevertheless, coming from lower-income households ($48,000 a year or less) has a far higher association with feeling unsafe in America, with 56% of nonwhites at the bottom of the income ladder reporting feeling safe walking alone at night, compared with 71% of white Americans who say the same.

Confidence in Police Lower Among Nonwhites

Among different racial groups, confidence in police follows the same pattern, with white Americans more positive than nonwhites. However, confidence in police is not mitigated by income. Among nonwhites in households making more than $48,000 a year, 64% reported confidence in local police, compared with 83% of higher-income white Americans.

Percentages of Whites and Nonwhites Who Are Confident in Local Police
% Yes, confident
Whites Nonwhites
% %
Household income
$48,000 or less 82 69
$48,001+ 83 64
Gallup World Poll

Among lower-income Americans ($48,000 a year or less), 82% of whites reported confidence in local police, compared with 69% of lower-income nonwhites. This lack of confidence expressed by nonwhites echoes the sentiments expressed after police shootings of nonwhites and by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hispanic Americans Also Feel Less Safe, but Just as Confident in Police

Hispanic Americans also reported feeling less safe walking alone at night (64%) compared with non-Hispanic Americans (75%). Regardless of their differing perceptions of safety, and unlike the racial groups, Hispanics do not differ from non-Hispanics in their confidence in local police.

Perceptions of Safety and Confidence in Local Police Among Hispanics and Non-Hispanics
Hispanics Non-Hispanics
% %
Safe walking alone 64 75
Confident in local police 78 80
Gallup World Poll

Among people in households making $48,000 a year or less, there are no differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanics in feelings of safety. Among people in households making more than $48,000 a year, Hispanics are less likely to report feeling safe walking alone at night (72%) compared with non-Hispanics (85%). Between Hispanics and non-Hispanics and across income categories, there are no differences in reported confidence in local police.

Additional Gallup research has focused on low-income communities and confidence in and respect for police. In conjunction with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Center for Advancing Opportunity, the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries, Gallup's study of at-risk communities found black residents are more likely than white residents to say that people like them are treated unfairly by the police and by the courts and legal system. To learn more about these data, check out the Fragile Communities Report.

Bottom Line

The diversity of Americans' experiences means some U.S. populations, like wealthy white people (those earning more than $108,000 per year), are as likely to say they feel safe as the average Finnish or Icelandic person (88%); and others, like poor nonwhite people ($24,000 or less) are as likely to respond this way as the average person from Chad (53%). Law and order, and perceptions of safety and local police, are foundational to a population's ability to live, grow and thrive in their well-being. Substantial inequality in this basic requirement for well-being -- safety -- suggests a core inequality for Americans to address.


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