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The Myth that High Unemployment Means a High Crime Rate

Okay, what about purely economic crimes? Surely we’ll find evidence that evil Mr. Bush and the Wall Street crowd made a lot of people into criminals because of need. But curiously enough, the overall property crime rate is startlingly similar to the violent crime graphs.

And darn it, the graphs for burglary, larceny & thefts, and motor vehicle theft all tell pretty much the same story: dramatic increases in unemployment in the 2001-2004 period seem to have no effect on flat or even falling crime rates. And those rates continued to fall during the most dramatic increase in unemployment most of you reading this have ever experienced.

Let me emphasize: I am not claiming that unemployment causes crime rates to fall. Nor am I claiming that there is no connection between unemployment and crime rates.  It is entirely possible that unemployment increases crime rates -- but that other factors are vastly more important determinants of what crime rates will be. A multivariate correlation analysis (where a dozen or more variables are simultaneously correlated against each other) might tell us something. But if unemployment really causes crime to increase, the effect must be pretty darn subtle if an unemployment disaster like the one we are in now cannot stop the inexorable drop in crime rates.

The one fact that is clear is that unemployment, as dramatic and damaging as it is to our national economy -- and the economy and mental well-being of individuals looking for work -- does not turn Americans into criminals.