More Problems from the Economy?

January 21, 2009

When people complain about the impacts of a recession, they are often concerned with reductions in income or job losses. But economic downturns may bring more than monetary ramifications. Some social scientists have associated increases in crime rates with decreases in the economy. This correlation is usually associated with instrumental crimes—crimes committed for material gain such as burglary, robbery, drug sales, and car theft. The belief is that the likelihood of people turning to crime increases as that population’s avenues for legitimate sources of income decrease. In other words, fewer jobs means more crime. This would seem to be common sense. But when we look at things closer, they get more complex.

According to many experts, we have been in a recession since December of 2007. The above hypothesis might lead us to believe that instrumental crime rates should have increased. But that hasn’t happened across much of the country. In many parts of the nation, instrumental crime rates have actually decreased! For example, Los Angeles city crime levels are at a 40-year low. Some suggest this might indicate that other social factors influence crime rates as strongly as the economy’s health.

Ideas for Discussion:
1) Do you think crime rates will start to increase if the recession persists? Why?

2) How can things like education level, community involvement, population size, or a population average age affect crime levels? What insights does this give you into explaining and controlling other social problems associated with a poor economy?

3) How could you use your above responses to encourage people to think of society as a interdependent system and not just separate parts? What would be the advantage of that approach in explaining social phenomena?

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  1. I believe that many factors effect the crime rate. The education level of a person living in an area with an extreme recession is going to have more difficulty competing for the few jobs available and may be forced into criminal activity in order to feed themselves. Also community involvement is also a factor. If you are actively involved in a church, for example, before the recession starts you are more likely to have a community of people there to help you when its needed.

  2. I do believe that the crime rate will increase because alot of people are going to suffering more than others and feel that only the strongest survive. With many becoming criminals, the victims are going to feel the need to protect what is their’s. I’m just hoping that this recession is over very soon because I will hate to see what the world is going to turn out to be.

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