As has been observed and written about extensively, the racial/ethnic composition of a community’s gang problem is largely a reflection of the racial/ethnic composition of the community itself, once socioeconomic factors are taken into account. Gangs tend to emerge in the most disadvantaged areas and thus naturally attract the disadvantaged youth residing in those areas. Therefore, a discussion of the racial/ethnic composition of gangs is largely a discussion of the socioeconomic variables of that area.
Reflecting the racial/ethnic divide along socioeconomic lines across the country, the largest percentage of gang members in the New York Gang Study belong to minorities, with around half reported as Hispanic/Latino and approximately one-third as African American/black. Around 10 to 15 percent of gang members are reported as white/Caucasian. A multisite study of school-aged youth finds comparable proportions. In contrast, a national survey of youth reports a much lower percentage of blacks (25 percent) and Hispanics (19 percent). Clearly, there is much variation across cities, counties, and states in the racial/ethnic composition of gangs, but ultimately, this descriptive characteristic of the gang problem is best regarded as a reflection of the social and economic inequalities that persist across the United States.