Rats are a major pest in many cities all across the world, including the United States; most people who live in urban areas are unable to escape these vermin.  However, rats seem to live much more prevalently in some areas more than in other areas.  Areas in which the poor are highly concentrated are a major area rats seem to infest.  This especially holds true in the very poor, majority African-American urban residential areas in many major American cities.  Rats can affect the lives of people, especially the poor, in many different ways, most of which are very negative.

Before going further, one question that I believe that needs to be addressed is where are rats commonly found?  Rats are found in or near homes, alleys, sewers, and zoos, and are strongly associated with areas of high concentrations of people with low socioeconomic status [1].  In addition, areas where there is a higher amount of trash, such as subways, waste stations, and parks have higher populations of rats and many areas near the noisy railway stations and waste centers, are areas in which persons of lower socioeconomic status are more prevalent.  In the United States, there are several cities that have significantly large populations of rats in their cities.  According to an article on Bloomberg, New York City and Austin, TX had the highest number of rat sightings, with several other cities having significant rat, mice, and cockroach problems as well such as, Seattle, Tampa, Detroit, and Miami [2].  The chart below shows the percentage of occupied houses that have had evidence of rats in the past year according to an American Housing Survey conducted during the 2013 U.S. Census.  Six of the top 10 worst rat cities in the world are in the United States, including New York, Boston, New Orleans, Atlanta, and others [3].  This shows that no matter the socioeconomic status, many Americans have to deal with the problem of rats and the problems they create.  However, one thing all these cities that have major rat problems have in common are a large number of extremely poor citizens living in the poorer areas of the city, a majority of these areas being areas primarily occupied by African-Americans.


During his “War on Poverty”, Lyndon B. Johnson tried to have the Rat Extermination and Control Bill passed in Congress in 1967, however, it was rejected which sparked much political debate [4].  Many slums in America had become infested with rats, which was both a huge environmental health issue and social injustice.  Many families struggled to even protect their children and from being bitten by rats.  During this time, most trash was simply thrown into the streets and left there due to the lack of a system of waste removal.  This also allowed the rat populations to thrive in the poorer parts of the cities.

While most would associate the presence of rats bringing down the quality of life, a new study has some very profound results.  A study by Danielle German and Carl Latkin found that in low-income areas with rat problems increased disorder in the neighborhood and had higher rates of depression.  The study showed that the presence of rats increased stress in the residents and had a significant negative effect on the people’s mental well-being and their physical health.  Rats were found to be more prevalent in areas of low income, higher population of African Americans, higher populations of people with STDs, lower education levels.  This data shows another way that “bad neighborhoods” are even worse than one would think.  While total eradication is implausible, as mentioned before, there are several methods rat populations can be attempted to be controlled.  However, in since they are more prevalent in poorer communities, many of the people affected have other expenses that take up a majority of their income that are much more dire, such as food and housing, leaving them less able to deal with the rat infestations as compared to how a more affluent neighborhood could.

Poverty and rat infestations in cities are both two very prevalent problems in many American cities that are extremely correlated.  Many residents in the more rat infested areas are unable to afford to deal with the problem of rats, which creates many health problems for those affected by the presence of rat populations.  A major debate arises from this, which is whose responsibility is it to deal with this problem?  The government’s?  This question may not have a definitive answer currently, but should be one law makers discuss.  In closing, I have added a very familar poem below that I found on a couple of the sources I used that discusses the problem of rats for the poor.



They fought the dogs,

and killed the cats,

And bit the babies in the cradles,

nd ate the cheeses out of the vats,

And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles,

Split open the kegs of salted sprats,

Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,

And even spoiled the women’s chats,

By drowning their speaking

With shrieking and squeaking

In fifty different sharps and flats.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Robert Browning, 1849 [5]



[1] http://www.ratbehavior.org/WildRatBites.htm

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-30/these-are-the-most-vermin-filled-cities-in-the-u-s-

[3] http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/1-new-york-city-n-y/

[4] McLaughlin, M, The Pied Piper of the Ghetto: Lyndon Johnson, Environmental Justice, and the Politics of Rat Control, Journ Urban Hist, 37(4) 541-561. Doi:  10.1177/0096144211403085

[5] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcop.21762/epdf



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