Aug 28, 2011 3:41 PM GMT
Read more for the whole thing but this is something that's been emerging for a while - poverty doesn't cause crime. The corollary is that to forgive/justify criminals or excuse them for being poor is wrong and does a terrible disservice to the poor.
During the seventies and eighties, scarcely any newspaper story about rising crime failed to mention that it was strongly linked to unemployment and poverty. The argument was straightforward: if less legitimate work was available, more illegal work would take place. Certain scholars agreed. Economist Gary Becker of the University of Chicago, a Nobel laureate, developed a powerful theory that crime was rational—that a person will commit crime if the expected utility exceeds that of using his time and other resources in pursuit of alternative activities, such as leisure or legitimate work. Observation may appear to bear this theory out; after all, neighborhoods with elevated crime rates tend to be those where poverty and unemployment are high as well.
But the notion that unemployment causes crime runs into some obvious difficulties. For one thing, the 1960s, a period of rising crime, had essentially the same unemployment rate as the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period when crime fell. Further, during the Great Depression, when unemployment hit 25 percent, the crime rate in many cities went down. (True, national crime statistics weren’t very useful back in the 1930s, but studies of local police records and individual citizens by scholars such as Glen Elder have generally found reduced crime, too.) Among the explanations offered for this puzzle is that unemployment and poverty were so common during the Great Depression that families became closer, devoted themselves to mutual support, and kept young people, who might be more inclined to criminal behavior, under constant adult supervision. These days, because many families are weaker and children are more independent, we would not see the same effect, so certain criminologists continue to suggest that a 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate should produce as much as a 2 percent increase in property-crime rates.
Yet when the recent recession struck, that didn’t happen. As the national unemployment rate doubled from around 5 percent to nearly 10 percent, the property-crime rate, far from spiking, fell significantly. For 2009, the FBI reported an 8 percent drop in the nationwide robbery rate and a 17 percent reduction in the auto-theft rate from the previous year. Big-city reports show the same thing. Between 2008 and 2010, New York City experienced a 4 percent decline in the robbery rate and a 10 percent fall in the burglary rate. Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles witnessed similar declines. The FBI’s latest numbers, for 2010, show that the national crime rate fell again.