Crime Rates and the Economy.

The New York Times reports:

Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crime rates fell significantly across the United States in 2009, according to a report released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday.

Compared with 2008, violent crimes declined by 5.5 percent last year, and property crimes decreased 4.9 percent, according to the F.B.I.’s preliminary annual crime report. There was an overall decline in reported crimes for the third straight year; the last increase was in 2006.

UCLA professor Mark Kleiman grumbles that reporters continue to write as though "crime naturally rises and falls with the unemployment rate. It doesn’t." Indeed, as OMB head Peter Orszag explained last year, sometimes crime rises with recessions. And other times it doesn't, particularly when it comes to homicide.

In his book, When Brute Force Fails, Kleiman explains that a number of historical and social factors combined to create the crime boom of the latter part of the 20th century, the biggest factor was demographics.

"People commit most of their crimes between the age of 15 and 30, and so periods of time when there are more people in that age range have more crimes,” Kleiman explains. "In addition, a particularly big birth cohort like the Boomers, and to some extent, the Echo Boomers, tend to have a higher individual per-person crime rate.”

This, Kleiman says, also happens to explain some of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. “That’s why the baby bombers brought us sex, drugs and rock and roll while the 1950s teenagers didn’t. The 1950s teenagers were outnumbered by their elders, the '60s teenagers outnumbered their elders.”

That's not to say that public policy is irrelevant. More sensible enforcement strategies and less draconian corrections policies would go a long way toward alleviating the economic and social costs of mass incarceration, and subsequently the predictable cycle of criminal recidivism.

-- A. Serwer

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