Why has New York City’s Crime Rate Gone Down while Unemployment has Gone Up?

According to Heather Mac Donald in the following Wall Street Journal article, the root causes theory of crime states that youth in the inner city had come to be disillusioned with the American Dream, and that police had little influence on the general crime rate, something that so far in the last year appears to have been disproven. To quote some statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, nationally in the first six months of 2009:

  • Homicides dropped 10 percent (down 19 percent in New York City and 17 percent in Los Angeles)
  • All other violence crimes went down nearly 5 percent
  • Property crime (which you would really expect to go up in response to the deteriorating economic conditions if the root causes of crime were true) went down over 6 percent – Los Angeles saw a more than 20 percent decline in car thefts in the first half of 2009
  • In comparison, according to Mac Donald, the 1960s saw a more than 40 percent increase in homicides nationally, and this was at a time when the economy was growing, in particular with regards to government jobs in inner cities.

    Mac Donald makes the argument that more effective policing techniques (such as the use of Compstat) and increased incarceration rates are mainly responsible for the decrease in serious crime. She also says that the currently declining crime rate is the opposite of what most criminologists were hoping for, as they had wanted to reclaim the dominance of the root causes theory of crime.


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