Monday, March 2, 2009

Will the Recession Cause a Surge in Crime?

I gathered the historical murder rate from here, which may not be perfectly reliable, but it corroborates with FBI data here, but the FBI data doesn't go back quite as far as I would have liked.

Just eye-balling the data, it doesn't seem to correlate really strongly. The recession in the early 90's seems to match, but there doesn't seem to be a strong lagging correlation between a high unemployment rate followed by a rising murder rate.

Also, the R-squared on concurrent correlation is 28%. Using a one-year lag (how well does unemployment this year predict the murder rate next year), the correlation fell to 16%. It seems that a higher murder rate in the next year is only very weakly predicted by the data.

1. The unemployment rate is in percentages and was gather from An average of the calender year unemployment rate was used.
2. The murder rate is murders/100,000 individuals.


Doug Keegan said...

What's the hypothesis for murder being a behavior motivated by unemployment?

Unless the market for contract killing is both larger and easier to enter than the layperson believes, I don't see the likely connection.

Now, I would expect to see an increase in property crimes. If one needs a few hundred bucks to pay the bills, an unlocked garage full of power tools looks awfully tempting.

Brian Shelley said...


After your comment, I realized that this was probably not as timely as other topics. It was inspired by a conversation at work where the person thought that crime was going up because so many are out of work.

There is a belief by some that crime is a function of poverty. This is, of course, ridiculous. The very choices to ignore long-term consequences of behaviors that lead to poverty also lead to criminal behavior.

This sort of thinking was mostly smashed during the 90s, but there is still a significant remnant of people who naively believe that poverty programs will cure crime.

Doug Keegan said...

Poverty programs certainly won't cure crime, but as I said I do believe a substantial economic downturn will lead to a measurable rise in property crimes, fraud, and the like.

I'd posit that modern Americans are resistant to willfully lowering their standard of living, and if criminal behavior (particularly of the non-violent variety) allows one to more easily maintain their current socioeconomic position, then some percentage of the population will turn in that direction.

Brian Shelley said...

I'll try to find property crime data and take a look.