As Employment Falls, So Does Crime


The other day Tim Cavanaugh noted that fears of a foreclosure-fed crime wave do not seem to have materialized in cities where large numbers of homes have been repossessed by lenders. Recent data from New York City cast further doubt on the more general idea that crime rises as economic conditions worsen. Although the city's unemployment rate, at 10.3 percent, is higher than the state and national averages, The New York Times reports, "the number of major crimes is continuing to fall this year in nearly every category, upending the common wisdom that hard times bring more crime." National figures also indicate that crime rates have continued to fall during the recession, which officially began in December 2007. Taking a longer view, "New York has seen a steady drop in crime over the last 16 years, through Wall Street booms and dot-com busts, amid the devastation of the Sept. 11 attack and the revitalization that followed." One criminologist tells the Times:

The idea that everyone has ingrained into them—that as the economy goes south, crime has to get worse—is wrong. It was never right to begin with.

Another academic is more cautious, saying that the evidence of a connection between economic conditions and crime is "rather equivocal" and that "the jury is still out on the impact of this most recent economic collapse." New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly suggests that one explanation for the lack of clarity is that most crime is not economically motivated:

People, generally speaking, are not committing crime to address a basic need for food or shelter. The economy goes up, the economy goes down—there's still an element of people who are committing crime not motivated by the economic environment that we all find ourselves in.