Economic Snapshot | Race and Ethnicity

Full-time work leaves little time for crime

A weekly presentation of downloadable charts and short analyses designed to graphically illustrate important economic issues. Updated every Wednesday.

Snapshot for August 16, 2000

Full-time work leaves little time for crime
In addition to falling unemployment and rising wages, declines in underemployment have also contributed to falling crime rates. Underemployment is a broad measure of the labor market opportunities facing workers. This labor market indicator measures the number of unemployed plus the number of workers who are marginally employed, i.e., those who are working part-time when they would rather have full-time jobs. High underemployment is often associated with higher crime rates, since potential offenders faced with low-paying, part-time jobs are more likely to use crime to supplement their income.

When underemployment rates decrease, the incentive to engage in criminal activity declines as a result of the increase in earned income and the reduction in idle time spent not working. Furthermore, by improving access to more full-time jobs, disadvantaged workers can build badly needed workplace skills, thereby improving job mobility and increasing their potential for higher future earnings.

Underemployment rates for young African American men with a high school education or less, 1994-1999

The graph above shows underemployment rates for young African American men with a high school education or less from 1994 to 1999. Like unemployment rates, the underemployment rate among younger African American men ages 16-24 are more than double that of African American men ages 25-34. The underemployment rate for young high school dropouts changes very little over this period until 1998, when the economy moved closer to full employment. Underemployment fell among high school dropouts by 6.6 percentage points between 1997 and 1999; the older group followed a steadier trend, falling 6.8 percentage points over the entire period from 1994 to 1999.

From 1994 to 1999, crime fell by 20%, with the annual rate of decline accelerating from 2.7% in the 1994-96 period to 4.5% in the 1997-99 period.

Source: Bernstein, Jared, and Ellen Houston. 2000. Crime and Work.

This week’s Snapshot by EPI economist Ellen Houston.

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