Labor Markets and Crime

Robert D. Crutchfield

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online April 2011 | | DOI:
Labor Markets and Crime

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There are few beliefs about the causes of crime more ubiquitous than that unemployment is an important cause, but the research is not so clear. This lack of clarity is a consequence of a literature that contains evidence both that unemployment rates lead to higher crime rates, and that they do not. At least one classic criminological theory, Merton’s conception of anomie, would lead us to expect that the unemployed would be more likely to innovate, sometimes by engaging in crime. Modern strain theories, as articulated by Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld and by Robert Agnew, would explain why in the aggregate and for individuals, unemployment, underemployment, or unsteady employment could increase criminality. Researchers, though, have reported positive, negative, and no association between unemployment and violent and property offenses. And there is even more confusion when this topic focuses on youth. The general public and policy officials seem to remain convinced that jobs will protect young people from delinquent involvement, but the research literature supports considerable skepticism about this claim. At a minimum, the literature indicates reasons for caution in applying this approach as a strategy against juvenile delinquency. Real progress has been made studying youth employment and crime as a result of the availability of a number of excellent data sources, notably the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY), the NLSY97, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add-Health), the National Youth Survey, and the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS), which have helped clarify the relationships among labor markets, employment, and juvenile delinquency. A number of the studies cited here have used these data. This lack of clarity in the criminological literature on these topics is due, in part, to varying specifications of what we mean by labor market effects on crime, whether research is reporting on relationships measured at the aggregate or individual level, the data that are used in research, and varying contexts in which the research is conducted. There are now research literatures on unemployment rates and crime rates, broader labor market characteristics and crime rates, and the labor market participation and crime both for adults and juveniles. In the late 20th century there was only a limited body of research, in English, that examined labor market indicators and crime outside the United States. Fortunately, this is changing rapidly. There is also a growing literature that examines the effects of adult labor market participation on juvenile delinquency and abuse. Finally, substantial increases in the rate of imprisonment in the United States are leading scholars to examine the labor market consequences of criminal justice system policies.

Article.  9513 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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