Unemployment and crime are always thought to work hand in hand, with an increase in one leading to a rise in the other, and vice versa. This OpinionFront article attempts to shed light on the other side of the picture.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), economic stress on unemployed parents leads to inadequate parenting practices, which in turn, increases the risk of juvenile involvement in crime.
Crime has been an inevitable part of societies since time immemorial. Ever since the remote past, people have been indulging in various kinds of offensive acts, ending up harming others and society as a whole. Crime, thus, is one of the social wrongs and essentially, amounts to violation of law and order. The governments enforce the power to restrict people from committing crimes, by means of different legal procedures; however, no society in the world has ever been able to completely uproot crime. In fact, a social anthropologist, Émile Durkheim, noted that crime is a normal, an extremely functional part of a healthy society, and that no society can exist without it. Regardless of this, one cannot deny the fact that people’s liberty for committing crimes should be constantly controlled, as it poses a great threat to the social order.
Crimes have been categorized under two subheads, viz. property crimes (burglary, arson, motor vehicle theft, etc.) and violent crimes (abduction, homicide, rape, assault, etc.). The point to be noted, however, is that every crime is influenced by a certain factor(s), which again, may have a different effect on different people.
Unemployment refers to joblessness. When, in spite of the will of the people to work, they do not find it, it amounts to unemployment. On the other hand, people who choose not to work are considered to be economically inactive, and are hence, not considered to be unemployed. Unemployment, in varying proportions, exists everywhere around the world and has several defined repercussions on the entire socio-economic and political setup. Of these, crime is often considered to be one of the greatest repercussions.
Most people believe and postulate that unemployment is by far, one of the major factors leading to an increase in crime rate. Numerous statistical studies have also pointed in this direction, stating that crime rates may indeed elevate with the increase in the rate of unemployment. In March 2012, a research was conducted by BOCSAR, in order to analyze the relation between unemployment and crime in Australia. The study yielded that unemployment leads to the creation of huge income disparities in society, thus, in turn, leading to an increase in crime rate. The study, therefore, confirms the age-old hypothesis that the rate of unemployment is directly proportional to crime rate.
However, some results of similar studies also show us that unemployment may actually not affect the crime rate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in collaboration with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), conducted a study to assess how unemployment has affected crime in the United States. For this, they analyzed the crime and unemployment rates from 1989 to 2009. It was found that the graph was rather irregular. In other words, the study indicated that crime and unemployment are not necessarily related to each other at all times. In fact, they may also function individually at times.
It can be seen from the two studies mentioned above that there is no definite pattern in which unemployment may affect the rate of crime. Different trends can be viewed in different places, and at different points of time. Moreover, there are several other factors as well, which along with rising or falling unemployment, determine the trends in the rise or fall of crime rate. Several economists, who have attempted to study how unemployment may affect the crime rate, argue about both―for and against the direct connection between the two.
Economists Bruce Weinberg, Eric Gould, and David Mustard hold a view that higher crime rate is linked to unemployment. They also argue that it is the unemployed, low-skilled workers who tend to turn towards crime, more than those who are highly educated. Others who argue against this viewpoint suggest that though unemployment may eventually lead to rise in crime, it is not always a direct cause.
Unemployment may lead to several factors, which may, in turn, force people to take the path of crime. For instance, unemployment may lead to social vices, such as poverty and malnutrition, which may make some people turn towards crime. However, it should be noted that such is not the case always. In several countries, like the US and the UK, there are certain monetary benefits that the unemployed receive, and though these may not be enough, they certainly work towards restricting the number of people turning towards crime.
When speaking of crime rates, it is also vital to consider factors, other than unemployment, which more often than not, may have a more profound impact. Of these, geographical location is the most important. Sometimes, certain geographical locations are such that they make available, a perfect setting for a certain type of crime to happen. For instance, a port town may prove to be a perfect setting for illegal smuggling of goods by the sea. Similarly, other factors, such as, social and political structures, overall culture, etc., also determine the rise and fall in crime rates.
Notably, unemployment―if it does lead to crime―results in the increase in the number of property crimes rather than the violent ones. It has been observed that people turning towards crime due to unemployment, are not inherently criminals. Most of them also tend to explore other options before committing anti-social and law-breaking acts. Such people cannot go farther than property crimes, except in some extremely rare instances.
On the other hand, people who indulge in violent crimes, seldom come under the “unemployed” category. In fact, many of them are professional criminals, committing criminal acts for money. So, what is important is the fact that irrespective of whether a person is employed or not, it is eventually his own thought process that persuades or dissuades him from committing a crime.
To sum up, unemployment is definitely one of the factors that may lead to an increase in crime rates. However, it seldom works individually. In most instances, unemployment has to be complemented by several other factors, and crime is often a collective outcome of these. Nevertheless, a point to be considered is that even crime is highly organized these days, with a lot of money involved. So, in many cases, crime may also function on its own. It can, thus, be said that the equation between unemployment and crime is rather complicated, and their relationship depends on various other factors as well.