Expert Says Economic Woes May Spur Crime Rate Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says the coming months will likely bring an increase in property crimes. He says the economic downturn could lead some consumers to look to the underground market.

Law

Expert Says Economic Woes May Spur Crime Rate

Expert Says Economic Woes May Spur Crime Rate

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101106238/101106962" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

As the economy gets worse, crime is likely to get worse, too, says an expert who studies crime patterns.

"What we tend to see in my own research, and accumulating research done by others, is that during economic downturns, property crimes tend to go up," Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Some social scientists say there is no link between economic conditions and crime, but Rosenfeld says they are "wrong." He says many researchers use the unemployment rate as the key economic indicator, noting that the use of what he regards as better indicators — gross domestic product per capita and consumer confidence — show a connection between economic downturns and crime increases.

Rosenfeld says it is difficult to predict how long the economic downturn will take to show an effect on crime, but notes that in his studies the lag is approximately one year, or sometimes less.

"My own view is that we're looking at the possibility of property crime increases over the next year and especially as the warmer months come on us," he says.

Rosenfeld says crime rates rise in such times not because ordinary citizens become criminals, but because some consumers begin entering the underground markets in which stolen goods are sold.

"As that demand expands, the incentives for criminals to supply those markets will go up," he says. "It's not the case that downturns transform virtuous people into street criminals."