Recession crime wave

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During every recession since the late 1950s there has been an increase in crime and, in particular, property crime and robbery, which would be most responsive to changes in economic conditions


Why should I be aware of this?

  • During economic misery people, confronted with hard times, may make poor choices including crime. Even those who are law abiding during stable times may yield to extreme pressure and break the law when depressions set in, prices tumble, and the number of unemployed swells.

All about recession crime wave

The last time stocks on Wall Street fell hard, in 1987, crime was exploding, and there was a historic highs in murders in the following years. Before that, the fiscal crisis of the 1970s saw abandonment of neighborhoods, failing schools and startling crime rates. During those years, leading up to 1981, when there were 107,495 robberies, for an average of 294 a day. [1]

The current economic downturn has wiped off thousands of jobs from hundreds of the American companies. This has prompted the US administration to announce a massive hiring of 50,000 police personnel as a preemptive measure.[2]

In the UK

Official July to September 2008 figures in the UK gave the first indications that the economic downturn has coincided with signs of rising crime.

Burglary cases were reported to be up, while the British Crime Survey reported an increase in theft from individuals. Figures for crime between July and September showed a 4 per cent increase in domestic burglary compared with the same three months in 2007. Other reported burglaries were up 3 per cent. Robberies using knives were up 18 per cent and reported fatal stabbings reached an all-time high, although violent offences were down 6 per cent overall.

The British Crime Survey, based on interviews with thousands of individuals, found thefts from the person were up 13 per cent compared with last year.

The reported crime figures, which predate the autumn crisis in the financial markets, presented a mixed picture, however, with overall reported crime down 3 per cent and the British Crime Survey, regarded as a more accurate measure of long-term changes in crime trends, showing household crime down and personal acquisitive offences unchanged on last year. [3]

Crime rates unpredictable

It’s also not true that everyone who gets laid off turns to crime, experts say. Safety nets such as unemployment payments are usually effective in reducing desperation in hard times. Several crime experts are cautious about blaming the recent increase in homicides in some major cities on the economic downturn or any other specific factor.

There is a commonly held viewpoint that as the economy contracts, crime will swell to fill the void. But on the other hand, many researchers believe that factors that influence crime rates are far more varied and complex than any economic indicator. Unemployment and financial desperation are not so inexorably linked to theft and murder.

90 degrees

There is another aspect of crime during recession. When people get desperate —particularly young, low-income groups — they are more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol, which may in turn lead to crime. These give rise to a growth and demand for drugs as self-medication for the stress of unemployment. This also leads to all that follow from illegal drug markets. [4]


During the Great Depression, in the years after the stock market crash of 1929, crime plummeted as well as large number of people sitting in their houses didn’t make great targets for crime. People going out in large numbers and spending cash and hanging are targets for such criminal activities. That was especially true in the Roaring Twenties, a time that also suffered from Prohibition and its attendant crime syndicates. [5]

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Additional information


  • Keeping Wary Eye on Crime as Economy Sinks
  • Recession creates 50,000 police jobs as crime graph soars
  • Will the Recession Spark a Crime Wave?


  1. New York Times
  2. The Economic Times
  3. The Independent
  5. Scientific American