Economic Slowdown Speeds Up Crime: Will Law Enforcement Jobs Keep Pace?
When the national economy is doing poorly, making gloom and doom forecasts becomes a cottage industry. In that context, it's no surprise that some major media outlets have already begun speculating that the current economic crisis will inevitably lead to an increase in crime. Some point to increased homicide rates in some of the country's largest cities as indicators that it's already underway. Historically, it is hard to argue against this prediction, as an increase in crime rates has accompanied every recession since the Great Depression. But does economic slowdown, and the accompanying rise in crime, lead to a rise in the number of police officers, criminal investigators, and dispatchers helping to keep our streets safe?
A Look Back at Crime Rates and Recession
Crime rates do rise during recession. This much can't be disputed. The degree to which one causes the other, however, is more difficult to quantify. During the recessions of the early 1980s, for example, the crack epidemic was at its peak, and the increase in crime may have been driven more by drug addiction than by the economy. During the Great Depression, crime increased for about two years, then actually fell during the last 20 or so months leading up to the Second World War. During the most recent recession in 2001, crime rates didn't increase so much as they stabilized after 10 years of steady decline. There is a correlation between crime and economic recession, but the relationship is a tenuous one.
Some Cause for Concern Today
While the most recent recession coincided with a barely noticeable uptick in crime rates, there are factors at work now that suggest we won't be so lucky during the current economic downturn. The most notable is the state of the housing and mortgage market, which is at the heart of the current crisis. Unprecedented foreclosure rates have already resulted in high numbers of vacant and abandoned homes, which can attract criminal activity in the form of gangs, drugs, and prostitution. Unemployment is already higher than at any point during the 2001 recession and climbing rapidly, a potential problem given that people who are gainfully employed are far less likely to engage in acts such as petty theft. And the current recession appears to be following another pattern of earlier recessions: while numbers are down for most retailers, sales of firearms and alcohol are up. By itself this doesn't necessarily foretell an increase in crime, but law enforcement officials generally agree that adding booze or guns to a bad situation nearly always makes it worse.
Does More Crime Equal More Cops?
Well it probably should. And in many instances, it will, at least according to employment forecasts released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For example, the BLS predicts employment opportunities for police detectives and criminal investigators to rise by 17 percent through 2016, an estimated increase of 97,000 jobs. Opportunities are expected to grow for state and local police officers as well, with approximately 70,000 more jobs on the horizon over the next eight years. The following five jobs are also slated to see substantial growth through 2016:
- Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers: 13.6 percent
- Managers of Correctional Officers: 12.5 percent
- Sheriff's Patrol Officers--Projected Growth through 2016: 11 percent
- Probation Officers: 11 percent
- Managers of Police Officers and Detectives : 9.2 percent
History shows that economic recession and crime go hand-in-hand, at least to some degree. Whether it's petty theft or violent crime, the toll of financial difficulty can weigh down even the best of us. Nevertheless, if things do get worse before they get better, keep in mind that law enforcement careers are on the rise, and that more men and women are expected to be out there to protect and serve