Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Despite Recession, Crime Figures Are Down

Time magazine's article "Despite Recession, Crime Figures Are Down" (December 21st, 2009) wonders why the recent recession hasn't triggered a rise in crime; notably, there is no statistical evidence for such a correlation.
Murder and manslaughter dropped a surprising 10 percent for the first half of the year, according to the FBI's data.
In addition, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review puts forth the following explanation in their article "Hard times bring drop, not rise, in serious crime" (December 22nd, 2009)
...there are several possible explanations for the drop in crime, including extended unemployment benefits and other government attempts at economic stimulus that "have cushioned and delayed for many people the big blows that come from a recession."
as noted in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, though changes in fiscally motivated crime-rates (such as robbery and property crime rates) can be explained in part by unemployment, there is no statistically significant correlation between violent crime and unemployment (Levitt, 2004). Fundamentally, the benefits to committing violent crime, especially murder and manslaughter, is unlikely to change in the face of a recession. On the cost side, it is possible that the opportunity cost of going to prison for committing murder does decrease. However, the long-term jail sentence a criminal can expect to serve after committing a murder far exceeds the length of a recession, so long run costs (on which people make decisions) change little. Ultimately, it seems unlikely that thousands of people are lurking in the stands, waiting until they lose their job to commit murder  For illustrative purposes only, the relationship between change in national unemployment and change in graphically below.  As in Levitt's paper, the relationship is negligible.

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