Crime and Recession: Initial Clues

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With the recession officially beginning in December 2007, some speculated the economic downturn would result in increased crime, especially property crime. Yet, the Department of Justice’s just-released 2008 National Crime Victimization Survey shows violent and property crime did not increase last year.

During the first full year of the recession, those crime rates were at or near their lowest levels since creation of Justice’s crime survey in 1973:

• The violent crime rate dropped from 20.7 “victimizations” per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2007 to 19.3 incidents last year. The difference is statistically indistinguishable from zero. Thus, statistically speaking, the violent crime rate didn’t change.
• The property crime rate dropped from 146.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 134.7 incidents —a decrease of 8.1 percent. That certainly is a statistically distinguishable decline.

Although it is still too early to tell how the recession and rising unemployment rates affected crime in 2009, the fact that national crime rates did not increase in 2008 suggests this year’s anticipated increase may not materialize. Let’s hope so.

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