Does Unemployment Increase Crime in Louisiana?

Considering the numerous factors that impact the rates of violent crime, unemployment is a particular area of concern with our current national rate at 8.1 percent and Louisiana’s current rate hovering around 7.6 percent.  Historically, crime rates have fluctuated in sync with the level of unemployment. If we look back to our lowest unemployment rate in the late 90s of 4.5 percent, the FBI reported that the total crime index for the U.S. had fallen for the seventh straight year, with violent and property crimes decreasing approximately 30 percent. The concurrence of crime and labor trends suggests that the amount of legal employment opportunities impacts crime rates. Supporting this theory, studies continue to show that as the rates for unemployment go up for men, so do the incidents of domestic abuse for women.

Other variables to consider are alcohol, drug use, and illegal drug sales tend to increase when employment opportunities decrease. When more people are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, the threshold for violence decreases. According to studies, there are four categories thought to link the business cycle and crime: 1) legitimate employment opportunities, 2.) criminal opportunities, 3.) consumption of criminal related commodities (guns, drugs, alcohol), and 4.) the response of the criminal justice system. For those living in neighborhoods with few legal employment opportunities, or with few attainable jobs in a competitive market, illegal dealings may be more attractive despite the risk because the profits are greater and come in more quickly. And there are studies that continue to show that people working legal jobs with marginal wages and/or benefits will continue illegal activities on the side to supplement their pay.

For those that are imprisoned as a result of their illegal activities (including violent crimes, robberies, selling drugs, etc.), the criminal record itself reduces their employability. Once offenders are released, the illegal opportunities are again more attractive because their flawed background record keeps their job applications at the “bottom of the stack” against other potential applicants with clean records. This self-defeating cycle is a hard one to break for repeat offenders.

Educational attainment plays an important role in the big picture of unemployment and crime.  In Louisiana (and the U.S. as a whole), those with less than a high school education are more likely to be unemployed than groups with a high school diploma or higher degrees. The table below shows the unemployment numbers in Louisiana by groups as of 2007 from the Louisiana Budget Project, an initiative of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

Workers who are under skilled have a harder time obtaining employment that seems “worth it” when illegal means of gaining income are readily available. And while some are motivated by a competitive market to go back to school to attain higher degrees, others become discouraged and rely on illegal activities for income.  So is the problem of unemployment a result of the lack of opportunity? Of motivation? Of resources?  A comprehensive look at Louisiana’s unemployment rate by parish in 2008 is below.

This is not to suggest that all citizens who are unemployed are not actively seeking work or are all turning to illegal activities to survive. This is a short exploration of the variables that play a role in the big picture of crime in our state and nation. The social problem of crime and unemployment is complex and will not be resolved in simple terms, but we need to consider all of the factors that are contributing to our crime rates in Louisiana and become proactive in addressing them.

Looking at the areas in Louisiana affected by unemployment and crime, what steps do you think we need to take to begin resolving our problems?

To learn more about Louisiana’s crime rate by city and parish, click on the following link:

Resource links:

Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime

State of Working in Louisiana 2009