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SEATTLE - Is there a direct correlation between teen gang activity and the economy? That's what one new poll suggests.

Harris Interactive, in conjunction with Federal Way-based World Vision, polled more than 1,000 American adults in May and found that 67 percent believes violence was increasing because of the recession.

Everyone is talking about the youth violence in Seattle right now, says Paul Patu, who carries the wounds of a violent past.

The former gang member was shot five times on a night in the mid-90s after a drug deal went bad. He says he was in the position because, I didn't need or have many adult supporters or advocates.

He worries that today's at-risk youth are in worse position, with parents out of work or struggling to make ends meet.

That's why he's leading a youth empowerment program in South Seattle to try and provide a forum for teens in need.

Celeste Blackwell is one of those teens.

One of my cousins is in jail for shooting someone at a gas station, she says, (My ex) got shot and died.

But Thursday night, she helped lead a discussion that also included 15-year-old Tanjanique Hillis.

My Mom went to jail for murder, she was 15, says Hillis. My grandma was on drugs. It impacted me, affected me really hard.

She's used the group for guidance, which she says, gave me knowledge to the things going on and life values.

Many of Patu's pupils will travel to Washington, D.C. later this month to lobby Congress for legislation to reduce teenage gang violence.

The Department of Justice's National Gang Intelligence Center said in a 2009 threat assessment that the Northwest region's gang activity increased 12 percent in a four-year span.

Tacoma police have made dozens of gang-related arrests in recent months, and a Seattle Police Department spokesman said late Thursday that reducing teen gang violence was still a top priority. The department added officers to the gang unit last year.

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