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Wednesday, April 16, 2014  

Poverty won’t raise crime rate, shows FBI data
WASHINGTON A plunge in US violent crime over the last two years despite the economic downturn appears to confirm what experts have long known — that poverty alone does not drive delinquency.

The latest figures released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show the lowest level of violent crime since the 1960s and a 5.5 per cent decline in 2010 alone, following a 5.3 per cent drop the previous year.

Robbery is also down nationwide — by 9.5 per cent in 2010 and 8.0 per cent in 2009 — despite soaring unemployment and a grim economic outlook.

Experts differ on what could explain the decline and insist more research is necessary, but say they have long viewed poverty as a poor indicator for violent crime and a weak one at best for property crime.

“There is no single satisfying answer to what causes changes in our crime rate, just like there is no single cause of weather,” said Catherine Gallagher, a criminologist at Virginia’s George Mason University.

“This is terribly unfulfilling for academic and armchair criminologists, and makes for a terrible soundbite.” Losing a job can lead to anger and desperation, but it can also mean spending more time with family and being at home during the day, cutting down on burglaries, she said.

And for law enforcement agencies, shrinking budgets can translate to less police, but can also motivate chiefs to deploy limited resources more effectively.

Experts point to myriad factors that have steadily reduced crime since the 1980s and early 1990s, when the crack cocaine epidemic devastated US cities.

But Alfred Blumstein, a criminology professor at Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University, said none would explain the dramatic shift in 2009 alone.

“There were two things that happened in 2009. One was a recession, and that should have made things worse, and the other was the election of an African-American president,” Blumstein said.

He pointed to an ‘Obama effect’ that may have mitigated feelings of social inequality and discrimination, seen as factors in previous crime waves. Blumstein acknowledged the theory remains “speculation” for now, but said it was consistent with statistics.

Agence France-Presse
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