Crime and the economyDecember 1, 2009Jon Brooks 1 Comment »
The New York Times reported the other day that even in this brutal economy, crime is actually down in New York City.
…While there is generally thought to be a lag between changing economic conditions and new crime patterns, he said, it is curious that there has been no pronounced jump in street crimes associated with the most recent recession, which took root last year.
A series of posts from the political science blog Monkey Cage addresses this counterintuitive lack of correlation between crime and the economy, in relation to people’s perceptions.
Since 2001, perceptions of crime have become far worse even as the actual crime rate has remained stable. I took FBI’s violent crime rate from 1989-2008 and matched it up as best as possible to Gallup poll numbers for each year.
For 1991-2001, perceptions line up nicely with reality. But in 2002-2008, a larger percentage of Americans perceived an increase in crime than one would expect, given the actual crime rate. It appears that 2009 will only continue this trend. A graph with the property crime rate would show a similar finding.
One can speculate about the reasons. September 11th seems an unlikely cause, especially of the increase since 2005. Local television news consumption affects certain beliefs about crime, according to this research by Frank Gilliam and Shanto Iyengar. But I don’t really think there’s been a massive uptick in local news consumption, or local news coverage of crime (which seems a perennial staple — if it bleeds it leads, etc.)…
One thing that occurred to me is that the decline in the crime rate in the 1990s coincided with an economic recovery. And the perceptions of more crime from 2002-2008 coincided with a weaker economy. Could the economy also affect perceptions of crime?
A provisional answer is yes: it appears that people perceive more crime when the economy is doing badly.
The logic could be: If the times are bad, people must be bad too…
So because people assume crime will increase in a recession, they perceive that it does, even though it doesn’t.
Along those lines, too bad no one perceived–when times were good–an increase in white collar, corporate crime, even though there actually was one. Then maybe I wouldn’t have to be blogging about this in the first place.