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The Myth that High Unemployment Means a High Crime Rate

Crime and unemployment: everyone knows that they go together. Right? Unemployed people, desperate for enough money to pay their bills, buy groceries, and get medical care (since those heartless Republicans think “don’t get sick” is a health care plan), must turn to crime. At the very least, disheartened men sitting at home are going to lose their tempers, get into fights, and shoot their spouses.

Like most conventional wisdom among the elites, it turns out not to be true. I grabbed the data from the FBI Crime in the United States, Table 1, which shows rates per 100,000 people from 1990 through 2009 for a variety of serious crimes. Then I grabbed the annual unemployment rate, civilian, non-institutional, for the same years.  Here are the plots. (On all these plots, the unemployment rate is in orange, plotted against the numbers on the left.)

Well, violent crime fell all those years that unemployment was falling in the 1990s -- but even as unemployment rose from 4% to 6% in the aftermath of 9/11, violent crime rates fell.  When unemployment more than doubled from 2006 to 2009, violent crime rates continued falling.

Murder? Just about the same story. Murder rates held steady in the period 2001-2004 — and continued to fall in the period 2006-2009.

Rape rates are boringly similar.

Robbery? Okay, that has to be related to unemployment, doesn’t it? I mean, robbers aren’t sociopaths -- they are people like you and me who just have had a run of bad luck, right?

Maybe robbers are not so different from murderers and rapists, after all. Robbery rates continued to decline while unemployment more than doubled these last three years.  And ditto for aggravated assault.