The housing crash's backwash of foreclosures and high unemployment has pushed some in the middle class and the working poor to the brink of despair and insolvency. Yet crimes reports ranging from murder to carjackings, from graft to purse-snatching, all declined during the same period, forcing social scientists to reexamine long-held assumptions about the causes of crime and how society can best battle back.So, at least there is a silver lining.
"What we're seeing now represents a real break in pattern from past relationships between economic downturns and crime increases," says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri, in St. Louis. "This current recession … does place constructive pressures on those of us who study crime trends to figure out what's happening amidst this serious economic downturn."
The report marks the third straight year of falling crime rates – a period that roughly overlaps with the recession.At the least, the trends show that America, for all its Hollywood violence fantasies and its occasional mass murders, remains at heart an orderly republic, where police, judicial jurisdictions, and even vigilant neighbors keep a reasonable check on society's darker inclinations – even when the society itself is strained.
This, of course, challenges the notion many sociologists have that crime is often brought on by those who feel they are victims of a system that keeps them poor, an idea that came to be in the 1960s.
But, let's take a closer look: Has your community seen an increase in poverty? And what about crime? Do you find more or less crime in your area since the recession hit around three years ago?
What do you think of the notion that "lawlessness is a form of social criticism"?[Photo by Bart Everson]