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  • Writer's pictureMikey

Crime And The Covid Economy

At first glance, this seems logical: Crime rates should drop during good economic times and rise during bad ones.

But there's little evidence to suggest that good economic times have much effect on crime. Crime rates rose every year between 1955 and 1972, even as the U.S. economy surged, with only a brief, mild recession in the early 1960s. By the time criminals took a breather in the early 1970s, crime rates had increased over 140 percent. Murder rates had risen about 70 percent, rapes more than doubled, and auto theft nearly tripled.

A bad economy doesn't always bring more crime. Crime rates fell about one third between 1934 and 1938 while the nation was struggling to emerge from the Great Depression and weathering another severe economic downturn in 1937 and 1938. Indeed, if the economic theory held, crime should have been soaring.

So it's hard to argue credibly that economic barometers such as the unemployment rate can be used to predict crime rates. But that hasn't stopped some experts from trying.

The economic situation is merely a piece of the puzzle when discussing crime rates. Many hypotheses have been proposed as to why crime has fallen, especially in the United States. Blumstein & Wallman (2006) conclude that a complex interaction between "prisons, drugs, guns, policing, economics," and "demography, including abortion" is the best explanation for the decrease in crime from 2004 to 2014.

To assess criminality and law enforcement's response from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one must consider many variables, some of which, while having a significant impact on crime, are not readily measurable or applicable pervasively among all locales. Geographic and demographic factors specific to each jurisdiction must be considered and applied if one is going to make an accurate and complete assessment of crime in that jurisdiction.

Several sources of information are available, which may help the responsible researcher explore the many variables that affect crime in a particular locale. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau data would allow a researcher to better understand a locale's population's makeup. The transience of the population, its racial and ethnic makeup, its composition by age and gender, educational levels, and prevalent family structures are all key factors in assessing and comprehending the crime issue.

These are unique times, and data is a critical tool for understanding what has and will probably happen. Overall crime is down 5.3 percent in 25 large American cities relative to the same period in 2019, with violent crime down 2 percent.

But murder in these 25 cities is up 16.1 percent concerning last year. It's not just a handful of towns driving this change, either. Property crime is down in 18 of the 25 sampled cities, and violent crime is down in 11 of them, but murder is up in 20 of the cities.

The F.B.I. doesn't supply recent crime statistics, so we collected the Uniform Crime Report (U.C.R.) data for these cities (each with over 250,000 people), which reported data at least through the end of May. The report's crime is divided into violent crime — murder, aggravated assault, rape and robbery — and property crime, composed of theft, auto theft, and burglary.

Property crime continues to be down in most places—primarily acts against private residences. This statistic will not remain by most expert's calculations. There was a tremendous storm unleashed at the beginning of the pandemic. The early release of over 16,000 non-violent criminals, and to release them into a society with a 14%-10% unemployment rate sets the stage for recidivism. The marketplace is currently saturated with unskilled labor due to the folding of 24% of smalls across the country.

Crime and unemployment in the current situation are directly correlated, and as the $600 additional unemployment dries up, the stage is set for an increase in crime. This volatile cocktail hasn't yet included the release and lack of mental health resources across the nation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 6.3 percent of the population suffers from severe mental illness, defined as longstanding mental illnesses, typically psychosis, that causes moderate-to-severe disability of prolonged duration. Given that the number of adults 18 and over in the United States in 2010 was estimated to be roughly 234,564,000, approximately 14.8 million people have a severe mental illness.

Experts polled by the Treatment Advocacy Center estimated that about 50 beds per 100,000 people would meet acute and long-term care needs, but in some states, the number of available beds is as low as 5 per 100,000 people. Thus, many who need residential treatment cannot obtain it.

The changes that led to this lack of space, as well as changes to the institutionalization process, have made it impossible for people with severe mental illness to find appropriate care and shelter, resulting in homelessness or "housing" in the criminal justice system's jails and prisons. The percentage of people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails is generally estimated to be 16 percent. Given that the population in U.S. prisons and jails totaled 2,361,123 in 2010, it would appear that nearly 378,000 incarcerated persons have a severe mental illness.

In many states, state hospitals will not consider admitting patients on Medicaid, expecting the private sector to care for them. But private hospitals have difficulty using the court system to commit people with SMI to the hospital because of the cost of transportation to the court, which is usually off-site, use of personnel, and the lack of reimbursement for psychiatrists who testify in court. It is a time-consuming process that often takes up to half a day.

The loss of jobs, release of criminals, and the denationalization of mental health services have overwhelmed social services at the local, state, and federal levels. Americans are slipping through the cracks of the system daily.

When the government system fails these forgotten populations, private sector charities step in to fill the gap. However, with the COVID restrictions and social distancing guidelines, these populations have difficulties having their needs met. Therefore, increasing the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, leaving people limited options for survival.

The last component of this cocktail is the recent anti-police sentiment across the country. America's law enforcement officers are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Before the pandemic, 86% of police departments nationally were already experiencing a workforce shortage. The daily demands on our police have grown since 1981, when we deinstitutionalized mental health and drug addiction treatment. As a nation, we placed the roles of peace officer and social worker on our police officers. Currently, we have an overtasked, overworked, and underfunded police force in this country. The shortage of police officers will continue to grow in areas of anti-police sentiment. The reality of less police funding and an overworked police department creates a stress burdened force that is risk-averse.

By combining all these critical issues into a mixing bowl and adding the recent 33% drop in the gross domestic product, America is about to see crime rates bounce back to the mid-1970s. To tackle this problem, the local, state, and federal governments must work in concert to tackle each of these core issues.

Since the unity of Democrats and Republicans on any topics isn't likely anytime soon. You, the individual citizen, must take extraordinary precautions to safeguard your family, home, and business.

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Bry WB
Bry WB
Aug 29, 2020

I deal with property crimes daily. There is a direct link with mental health and addiction with these crimes. Self medicating people become addicted. Mostly with some type of opiate and even meth. The commit thefts to feed that addiction. Many of these crimes are organized. A few seconds on social media market places and its obvious. A free market system feeds this frenzy. When the economy is good major box stores can easily pass those losses to the consumer and the consumer gladly pays without a thought. The corporate big wigs accept the losses and little focus is given to loss prevention. When the economy is bad loss prevention becomes a focus and morphs into a zero tolerance stance.


Aug 26, 2020

You have hit the nail in the head with this. As law enforcement myself and seeing the release of felons I can tell you due too everything going on the crime rates are going to continue to climb. Our county jails are over burdened and once restrictions are lifted there will be a massive dump of felons onto the state system. The ones being released will then end up returning to the county jails because they will be out there committing new crimes and getting caught and the whole cycle starts all over.

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