Broke? Just Drink: Alcohol & Inequality in Omaha

By: Raul Ramirez, Blake Zellmer, Maida Uribe, Julian Perez, Nani Jackson

The motive for this project was to learn more about inequality and liquor stores. The project started off by searching for articles that dealt with liquor and inequality in a UNO database. This topic led to many perspectives over liquor and made connections with inequality in the environment. The project is in depth by looking at themes including density, income, health, and policies. Secondary data was found to support the findings. So, what are corner stores? Corner stores aren’t the average store nor are they anything like a gas station. These stores are mostly small and a little ran down spots on the corner of the street that sell hard liquor, very little wine, and a few snacks such as, chips, sodas, and candy. Also it’s easy to find many of these corner stores in lower income and minority neighborhoods. The hypothesis is that there are more of these liquor and corner stores in low income neighborhoods where there is more disadvantage, more minorities, and less money. To examine this, there’ll be a look at where these stores are, what the income levels of the neighborhoods are, and how other factors such as policies and housing come into effect. This project looks specifically at the city of Omaha, Nebraska in which the neighborhoods are as loosely defined: North (below 72nd St.), South (left of 72nd St.), and West (above 72nd St.).

Corner & Liquor Stores Data  

According to google maps also with known familiarization of the Omaha area there is a different total of corner stores which there were more in North and South Omaha which have a lot lower income rate than out West were they only had two corner/liquor stores located. Over the years these once convenient/liquor stores that were meant for an outlet for these lower income neighborhoods have became a disadvantage and as some may say a “double jeopardy.” They have decreased in the numbers of being a place to get essential things that may be needed, but more of an outlet for people who solve their problems with alcoholic beverages. While looking from the outside of these convenient or liquor stores, although it’s not always an everyday thing, it’s possible to see alcoholics either passed out or out in front of these stores drinking and many homeless people also nearby these stores. These stores are usually family owned and they usually don’t permit laundering of any kind nor people being on the premises at certain times, because that brings down the value of the place. And however with the main source (alcohol) being a downfall in these places still represent and still strive to help the community.

Corner & Liquor Stores Analysis

Corner/Liquor Stores are little convenience stores on the corner of the street mostly located in lower income minority areas. These corner/ liquor convenience stores was once placed on every corner to help with the food deserts in lower income neighborhoods to make it easy for families to commute to, but over the years these corner/liquor convenience stores have become the complete opposite of a helping hand. Sharma, Jyoti and Anita Sharma found that, “home environment is the leading factor as well as family income, inadequate living conditions, unemployment, and negative family environment that increases the alcohol intake.”

Income & Alcohol Data

Income has shown to be a social struggle in Omaha Nebraska. North and South Omaha have a low income compared to West Omaha. North Omaha’s income ranging between $14,115-$61,484, South Omaha ranging from $17,872-$55,309 and then West Omaha ranging from $64,676-$159,583 making it the highest income area in Omaha. In correspondence to the income levels in Omaha, the amount of liquor/corner stores correlates with the incomes in each area.Alcohol consumption is influenced by the greater availability of liquor and convenience stores in low income areas, whereas there are fewer liquor and convenience stores in areas with higher incomes such as West Omaha.

Lastly though, Nebraska’s liquor is taxed $3.75 per gallon, which is lower than seventy-two percent of the other 50 states. The tax is imposed at the rate of 31 cents per gallon on all beer, 95 cents per gallon for wine, $3.75 per gallon on alcohol and spirits, and six cents per gallon for wine produced in farms. The idea of this tax is to make use and purchase of alcohol more expensive and therefore less accessible. Because if it’s not a cheap commodity, the use of it, logically, wouldn’t be high, especially in areas without much income.

Income & Alcohol Analysis

Income plays a big role in the consumption of alcohol, and the availability made to lower income neighborhoods, one article that supports this states “Poverty was positively associated with heavy drinking and alcohol related social and dependence problems(McKinney, 2012).” This is supported by many other articles that state similar findings saying that “For those in the highest income group, the probability of all outcomes remained relatively static as density increased. For those in lowest income group, however, outlet density mattered, with the probability of all outcomes rising as density increased significant for exceeding recommendations, binge drinking, and problem drinking. (Shortt, 2018)”

The low price of alcohol tax contributes to the sell and availability of alcohol and abundance distributed throughout the city, especially in low income areas ( Xu, Chaloupka, 2011).  There are roughly 11 liquor/corner stores in North Omaha, 8 liquor/corner stores  in South Omaha, and only 2 liquor/corner stores in West Omaha. Economists and others have thoroughly analyzed and studied the correlation of alcohol prices and taxes and its consequences. Federal and state taxes for alcohol have barely increased over the past few decades along with the prices of alcohol beverages. However, as Xin and Chaloupka state, studies have shown that increases in prices and taxes of alcohol have decreased alcohol consumption, thus decreasing the consequences like abuse, violence, etc.

North Omaha Liquor & Corner Stores

North Omaha

Via Google Maps

South Omaha Liquor & Corner Stores

South Omaha

Via Google Maps

West Omaha Liquor & Corner Stores

West Omaha

Via Google Maps

 

Section 8 Housing Data

Section 8 of the Housing Act, commonly referred to as Section 8, is a federal government program for assisting the elderly, disabled, and low-income families to afford housing from private landlords. The Omaha Housing Authority currently administers approximately 4,300 vouchers, which makes the Section 8 waitlist difficult to get on. As of November 2018, the waitlist is temporarily closed.

OHA

Map of Omaha Housing Authority locations in Omaha area, via Google Maps

When searching specific locations for Section 8 Housing, no clear information is found. According to Google Maps, most of the Omaha Housing Authority locations are found in North Omaha and South Omaha. Only one location is near West Omaha.

However, the Omaha Housing Authority provided data specific and current information about households under the Section Housing program as of October 2018. For confidentiality reasons, no specific addresses were given, but zip codes and the number of households in each were provided. The map below lays out the zip codes, and the charts below show the information provided.

zip code

Zip code map of Omaha, via Google Images

west

south

north

pie

The Omaha Housing Authority is in charge of making sure all applicants of Section 8 meet all of the requirements. Requirements include qualifying as a family, having an income at or below specified income limits, citizenship or eligible immigrant status, and social security number information. There are three types of low-income families that may qualify for Section 8: low-income, very low-income, and extremely low-income. Low-income families do not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, very low-income does not exceed 50 percent, and extremely low-income does not exceed 30 percent.

On the other hand, Section 8 has strict reasons to deny or terminate rental assistance. Some reasons include a previous eviction from housing, violation of guidelines which includes serious or repeated violations of a lease, and violent criminal activity like fraud, bribery, alcohol, and drug-related activity. Rehabilitated drug and alcohol users are allowed to apply for Section 8. However, a user with a current drug or alcohol addiction is not covered. In addition, individuals are not considered disabled because of a dependence of drug and alcoholics. A disabled individual is one who has mental or physical limitations even without alcohol and drugs.

Alcoholics can struggle with problems that lead to low-income and homelessness. But, Section 8 can administer help for individuals like this. However, an alcohol addiction can be in between an individual and help. Additionally, many liquor stores are located in the same areas as Section 8 Housing, which causes a back a contrasting effect. How can these people get help if their addictions are readily available where they are located, such as in North Omaha and South Omaha? This relates to the main issue of inequality and alcohol.

Section 8 Housing Analysis

Section 8 Housing shows a specific trend in Omaha. According to data provided by the Omaha Housing Authority, North Omaha leads with more Section 8 households, with 79.102 percent. South Omaha follows with 15.815 percent, and West Omaha has the fewest with 5.083 percent. This relates to alcohol because several neighborhood contextual factors may be important aspects of alcohol environments. According to a study conducted by Wendy S. Slutske, et al., “living in an more advantaged and educated urban neighborhood with greater densities of bars and restaurants is associated with a greater alcohol involvement among 18- to 26-year-olds in the United States.” Their study found that alcohol outlet density is more common in disadvantaged neighborhoods, like Section 8 households, compared to more advantaged areas in the United States. In Omaha, most of the liquor and corner stores are located in the same areas with the most disadvantaged neighborhoods like Section 8: North Omaha and South Omaha. Wendy S. Slutske, et al.’s study also found that the disadvantaged neighborhoods affected 18- to 20-year-olds to engage more in drinking behaviors, such as underage drinking, heavy drinking, and binge drinking. On the other hand, in Omaha, more liquor and corner stores are placed in the disadvantaged neighborhoods than more advantaged neighborhoods. This could relate to the fact that liquor and corner stores are only placed in struggling areas because they are already struggling.

In addition, another study conducted by Christy M. McKinney, et al. examined the relationship with neighborhood poverty and alcohol-related problems. Section 8 Housing is divided into three categories: low-income, very low-income, and extremely low-income. The study also found that alcohol density targets mostly poor neighborhoods. This article proves that there a relation between people living in poor neighborhoods and more alcohol consumption. In Omaha, this is prevalent because more liquor stores are located where there is low-income housing such as Section 8.

Population & Segregation Data

Omaha is the largest populated city in Nebraska. The highest populated race in Omaha is white, and they are 67.2% of the whole population. The second highest populated race is Hispanic, and they are 13.8 % of the population. Lastly, African Americans are the third highest, and they are 12.5% of the population according to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey.

Segregation is present in Omaha and is divided by income. The Omaha real estate website lists houses and their prices. Many white individuals are located in the West and live in homes that are averaged to be more than $200,000. In the other hand, many Hispanics are located in the South and African Americans in the North. These two races are both averaged to live in homes near $100,000. 16.3% of the population are below the poverty line according to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey. A lot of individuals that are below the poverty line can be generalized to live around South and North Omaha because that is where the lower class is situated.

Having an education attainment is important, and it improves someone’s living. People with a lower education attainment have a higher risk of poverty compared to people with a Bachelor’s degree. Educational attainment plays a role with income because it correlates with people’s earnings. Many people who go to a post secondary school have a higher chance of meeting new people and make connections. This could be helpful in the long run because someone could have the same interest as another and help each other find a job. The number of white individuals with a high school education attainment is 210,563 or 90.1% of the total white population alone. This number excessively outnumbers any race in Nebraska. Hispanics with a high school education attainment is 13,278 (46.3% of the Hispanic population alone) and there are 27,444 African Americans (85.3% of the African American population alone). These statistics are also from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey.

Discrimination and racism has an impact in employment. This problem could be found anywhere, and it effects the population in Omaha. The last thing found from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey was that there are 274,465 whites employed (67.2% of the white population alone), 37,825 Hispanics (66.5% of the Hispanic population alone), and 40,598 African Americans (57.5% of the African American population alone). Hispanics and African Americans struggle to get a job because of inequality. There are bosses who are biased when hiring new employees. Some simply base their selection by race and gender. This could be seen in the United States Congress because many white males hold more than half of the total positions.

Population & Segregation Analysis

Segregation, employment, and educational attainment in Omaha have an influence on alcohol consumption. The people that live in South and North Omaha earn lesser income compared to the people in the West. This is generalized by the different cost of housing in those areas. Many Hispanics and African Americans live in low income communities. Poverty is positively associated with heavy and binge drinking (McKinney, 2012). People that are unemployed face higher alcohol consumption because of stress in their daily lives. Immigrants have to deal with language barriers, discrimination, and have to get used to a new culture (Vaeth, 2016).  Lower income communities are exposed to more liquor stores which offer cheaper liquor compared to bigger franchises found more commonly in the West (Shortt, 2018). South and North Omaha are also highly targeted by alcohol advertisement (Vaeth, 2016). Having a low education attainment leads to a higher risk of poverty. White individuals are the ones who have the most education attainment following African Americans and Hispanics. Higher education by itself decreases drinks consumed per week (Brenner, 2015).

Policies and Crime Data

Alcohol is considered a dangerous substance often, because it creates issues. With these issues being more abundant and left to spiral unless controlled, there are policies set in place to restrict use of alcohol. One such policy is at the national level which states that sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited to anyone under the age of 21 (underage or minors). This is done to prevent any abuse and medical issues that alcohol can create in minors. Still, within Omaha, the Douglas County Health Department reports that sale of alcohol to minors in 2010 is at about 6% in the area. Although the Omaha World Herald reported 10% in 2017 for the city, close to doubling in only 7 years. Additionally, the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 49% of underage drinkers reported last drinking in someone else’s home, and 37% in their own; as well, 73% of them said they were drinking with more than one other person. Even more so, it was found that 54% of underage drinkers reported family and friends as their source for alcohol. A big reason underage drinking is a concern is because it’s seen that minors are more likely to binge drink compared to those of legal age.

Another issue alcohol creates that’s well documented is impaired motor skills, which leads to DUIs (Driving Under the Influence). Often the more alcohol consumed, the worse one’s motor skills become, and usually vision as well. So Nebraska’s legal blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or 8%, anything above this while driving results in a DUI. Because driving under the influence (of alcohol) can be deadly. Additionally, to try and prevent use, or at least in public, Omaha limits sale of alcohol to between the hours of 6am and 1am. This is in an attempt to lower alcohol’s influence during the night/early morning, because otherwise it would likely create disturbances, crime, or other issues. Such crimes are influenced a different amount, some reports state the percentage of each crime convicted that has been influenced by alcohol: robbery 15%, sexual assault 37%, aggravated assault 27%, intimate partner violence 66%, child abuse 40%, and homicide 40%.

Crime is a thing that everyone wants to avoid and is seen near low income communities. The Omaha Police Department uses a tool called crime mapping where crimes are reported every day. There were bigger amounts of crime reports located in South and North Omaha. The crimes consist of theft, assault, vandalism and more. This could bring fear into many individuals surrounding those areas and build a bad perspectives over those certain areas. Unfortunately, it is not possible to avoid crime, but people try to live in neighborhoods where crime is least reported. This solution is sometimes not possible for families in those areas because they do not earn sufficient income.

Policies & Crime Analysis

Looking at policies placed on alcohol, the main one is limiting purchase and drinking to those age 21 and older. Because many studies have found that it is the youth, underage drinkers, that are more likely to drink heavily or binge drink leading to greater issues with alcohol (Slutske, Wendy S., et al. 2016). It also doesn’t help that advertising and social media are often found to be influencers of drinking with young adults (Hoffman, Eric W., et al. 2014). So, this policy does have value, and its even greater meaning to not disrupt development which alcohol can do in young adults and children, often in lower socioeconomic statuses ( Guttmannova, Katarina, et al. 2016 ). The only issue is a policy doesn’t stop the use; in Omaha underage selling was reported to be roughly 10%. So, out of 10 kids, odds are that all of them could get drunk because 1 out of the 10 of them would likely be sold alcohol. And that’s given that they buy it themselves and aren’t provided with it from someone of legal age like a friend or family often. Though it has been found at least that conviction of these crimes with a more strict punishment do create a higher chance of reducing alcohol use (Clair, Mary, et al. 2011 ). Beyond policy strictly for alcohol, just the influence of alcohol on behavior can lead to disturbances. Findings show that alcohol can be linked to creating violence or violent tendencies, workplace problems, and family issues (Babor, Thomas F, 2010). When applied to sociology, alcohol disrupts or destroys the idea of functionalism; with alcohol, there is no balance, there is no harmony to work together in a society. In general the influence of alcohol would disrupt sociological perspectives like functionalism that rely on society or individuals working together, even some that target just the individual. Ideally thinking, it’s just because these theories don’t take into account outside influences probably, but the fact something as simple as alcohol could disrupt them, potentially turn them false is astonishing.

Methodology

Specifically to Omaha there’s five main parts of data: the amount of liquor and corner stores, income levels, housing, the population, and policies. Primarily the scope of stores was limited to stores that sold only hard liquor, some beer and or wine, and maybe snack food; this was done to keep the total smaller scale, recording every location that sold alcohol wasn’t possible in time. To gather these locations it was just the use of Google Maps to find the amount and location of each per neighborhood. The income levels were based on a range from the lowest to highest recorded income in each neighborhood between the years of 2012 and 2016, based on StatisticalAtlas.com and FactFinder.census.gov. This was done to give an idea of income levels in comparison to other factors like the amount of liquor stores, minority population, and section 8 housing. Housing was mainly looked at with section 8, a housing assistance program; the concept was to see if those in housing assistance were also found in areas with a high amount of liquor stores. This data was found from ohauthority.org because section 8 is a program under similar regulations to the Omaha housing authority, and the data itself is recent from October of 2018. Omaha’s population was looked at to see the diversity of neighborhoods, seeing where minority populations primarily lived compared to the neighborhoods income level and liquor store density, the data was found from FactFinder.census.gov. Lastly, policies are meant to play an important part in limiting the use of liquor so those were gathered from the Nebraska Legislature and some relating statistics were found from the Omaha World Herald and 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, we explained the difference between convenience and liquor stores versus your typical grocery store, winery, and gas station. Also gave a lot of information where these liquor stores are located in Omaha, Nebraska and how Omaha Housing (Section 8) plays a huge role in inequality in our city, such as most of the liquor stores were located in North and South Omaha which both house mostly minorities and a lot of recipients of Omaha Housing (Section 8). And with the data we were able to see that West Omaha  has residents of a higher income rate and fewer recipients housed Omaha Housing (Section 8) and only 2 liquor stores are located in the area. We sectioned our data in different sectors such as density, income, health, and policies to see how inequality plays a role with liquor stores. Lastly with all the data collected a solution to direct a more positive outlet for these lower income neighborhoods is to have these liquor stores spaced out and not necessarily in minority communities, as well as having more outreach or informational programs at no cost to explain the dangers of alcohol, and creating a more positive outlet instead of drinking.

 

Work Cited  

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