Effect of Unemployment on the Crime Rate in New York City Term Paper

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Unemployment and Crime Rates

There has long been a correlation between unemployment rates and crime. This correlation is most evident in large metropolitan locales such as New York City. The purpose of this discussion is to explore the effect of Unemployment on the crime rates in New York City over the past few years. Initially the paper will focus on data and statistics concerning the correlation between the increase in unemployment rates and subsequent increases in crime. The paper will attempt to demonstrate that an increase in the unemployment rates leads to an increase in the crime rates in New York City. The paper will also discuss three theories that can explain this positive correlation between unemployment rate and crime rate.

Data and Statistics

Sociologists and Academics have long sought to demonstrate the correlation between crime and unemployment in various societies throughout the world. In New York City this correlation became very evident in 1819. A book entitled A History of the Endowment of Amherst College explains, 'The country was in the midst of a severe depression, following the panic of 1819. The United States Bank was in difficulty as early as 1818, but the storm broke in full force in 1819. The country had never known such widespread unemployment; in New York City a tenth of the population was receiving poor relief. The prisons were filled to overflowing." (King 1950)

Indeed over the past 50 years there has been a definite connection between unemployment rates and crime in New York City. These correlations are most evident between 1976 and 1991 when crime in the city was at its highest and unemployment was also high. For instance, in 1976 the unemployment rate was 7.8 during this same year the crime rate was 6,225.1 per 100,000 people. (New York Crime Rates 1976-2000) Compared this to the year 2000 when the unemployment rate was at a low 5.3 the crime rate had diminished to 3,099.6 per 100,000 people. New York Crime Rates 1976-2000

Although the notion of a positive correlation between unemployment and crime is apparent with these statistics, one may believe that this correlation can't be made if you look at more recent statistics. Take for instance, a review of statistics in the ten years spanning 1990 to 2000. According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics between 1990 and 2000 the annual unemployment rates were as follows;

Series Id: LAUSM56000003,LAUSM56000004,LAUSM56000005,LAUSM56000006

Not Seasonally Adjusted

Area: New York, NY PMSA

Area Type: Metropolitan areas (MSA and PMSA)

State/Region/Division: New York



labor force employment unemployment rate

c: Adjusted to incorporate revised intercensal population controls for the 1990s

As you can see the highest rate was in 1992 while the lowest rate occurred in 2000. Unemployment rates shifted greatly between 1990 and 1991. The population of New York City grew substantially between 1996 and 2000.

In the graph (New York Crime Rates 1976-2000) that follows we see that the Crime rates for the same ten-year period have actually decreased every year. This is the case in spite of fluctuations in the unemployment rate. There are several reasons why these anomalies exist. The first factor involves an increase in law enforcement personnel and the city's more aggressive stance on crime. In addition, these statistics ignore many important factors such as race because unemployment rates among minorities are higher. In addition, it does not explain crime rates in neighborhoods where the unemployment rates are higher. Without these factors it is difficult to see the whole picture and what is really happening in these underemployed neighborhoods.

New York Crime Index Rates Per 100,000

main theory behind a positive correlation between unemployment and crimes rates is economic deprivation. Theorists assert that the economic deprivation resulting from unemployment causes people feel stressed and commit crimes. An article in Insight on the News, explains that 'It is difficult to find a statement on crime by a politician, pundit or academic that fails to mention restricted economic opportunity as a root cause....the coincidence of crime and unemployment in America's ghettos suggests that they are connected. Seemingly, an absence of employment would make crime an attractive option. Conversely, enhanced job opportunities ought to make crime less attractive. Nobel Prize-winner Gary S. Becker has argued that variations in economic opportunity explain variations in crime rates." (Rubenstein)

Theorists assert that economic deprivation can lead to crime that isn't even profitable. For example, people that are unemployed or underemployed may commit violent crimes such as rape or murder as opposed to crimes such as robbery which may lead to monetary gain. An article in the journal, Social Forces, explains that the idea of an individual steeling in order to meet his basic needs is actually not true in most cases. The author explains that the modern welfare state has shielded many from the full effects of poverty through unemployment compensation, subsidized rent, and food vouchers. The article asserts,

"While economic motivation likely makes a nontrivial contribution to high crime rates, particularly for property crimes, as a stand-alone guiding principle it is limited in a number of respects. First, motivationally-based explanations of crime suffer from what Sampson and Wilson ( 1995 ) term the '"materialist fallacy' -- that economic (or materialist) causes necessarily produce economic motivations" (45). They point out that strain or materialist theories have not fared well empirically and "the image of the offender stealing to survive flourishes only as a straw man." (45). The modern welfare state buffers the full effect of poverty and joblessness through unemployment compensation, welfare, and other government programs." (Shihadeh 1998)

Another theory is known as the casualty notion or the Becker-

Ehrlich model. This theory asserts that "individuals divide their time between legal activities and risky illegal activities. If legal income opportunities become scarce relative to potential gains from crime, the model predicts that crime will become more frequent. Increased unemployment could be one such factor."(Papps and Winkelmann 1999) The authors assert that people turn to crime because they are desperate for money.

A final theory that must be examined involves problems in the labor market and youth in the progression from school and adolescence to work and adulthood. (Hartnagel 1998) This particular theory asserts that the nature of the transition can be stressful and unproductive if there are problems in the labor market. The article contends,

"For labor market variables, there is some evidence that (excluding periods of part-time employment) unemployment among young (15-16 years) male English school leavers led to higher crime rates for offenses involving material gain for youth predicted to be most delinquent and those with lower status jobs ( Farrington et al., 1986). Other analysis of data on criminal behavior among 21- to 24-year-olds in the Cambridge prospective longitudinal survey of 411 males from a working-class area of London, England revealed that it was influenced by an unstable job record and anti-establishment attitudes at age 18, as well as prior delinquency and economic deprivation as a juvenile."(Hartnagel 1998)

All of these theories assert that there is a direct correlation between unemployment and crime. The theorists believe that there is ample evidence to support these theories. They also assert that the likelihood of a person committing a crime because of unemployment or underemployment decreases with maturation.


The purpose of this discussion was to explore the effect of Unemployment on the crime rates in New York City over the past few years. Initially the paper focused on data and statistics concerning the correlation between the increase in unemployment rates and subsequent increases in crime. We found that the positive correlation could be seen the most before the 1990's. We also concluded that this had much to do with the city's more aggressive stance on crime. The will attempted to demonstrate that an increase in the unemployment rates leads to an increase in…

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