The Public Interest

Unemployment and crime— what is the connection?

James Q. Wilson & Philip J. Cook

Spring 1985

PERIODICALLY, the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress issues a report claiming that increases in unemployment (or other forms of economic adversity) lead to increases in the homicide rate (as well as in other social pathologies). The first such report appeared in 1976 with a preface by the Committee’s chairman, the late Hubert Humphrey, in which he said that a “1.4 percent rise in unemployment during 1970 is directly responsible for... 1,740 additional homicides.” The second report appeared in 1984, this time with a preface by Rep. Lee Hamilton, Democrat of Indiana, who wrote that “changes in unemployment, real per capita income, and other measures of economic performance are correlated with crime.” In a table accompanying his letter, Rep. Hamilton noted that the 14.3 percent increase in unemployment which occurred between 1973 and 1974 led to a 1.7 percent increase in homicides.

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