How Lack of Economic Opportunity Can Lead to Crime

During moments of economic distress, it’s not uncommon for people to break the law in order to get by. The relationship between poverty and crime is as old as civilization itself, as necessity often causes people to do things that are uncharacteristic of them to achieve the means of providing for themselves and their families. However, there are many additional socioeconomic factors that contribute to the spikes and drops of crime rates, including educational and criminal justice systems.

Crime and Poverty

Although this narrative has existed for a long time, crime is not actually a direct result of poverty. There have been many studies conducted over decades to gauge what the exact connection is between crime and poverty. These have taken into consideration factors such as an increase or decrease in wages, as well as the unemployment rate. In the U.S., these economic factors have not always had the expected impact on crime, indicating that the connection is complex.

One of the most common crimes that occurs today is petty theft. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention suggests that there are approximately 27 million shoplifters today, 25 percent of which are kids. However, shoplifters often commit these crimes as a response to social and personal pressures in their life — not out of greed, financial need, or criminal intent.

While the most common products to be stolen are usually food and drinks, this is more often because they are easy to steal and you can quickly get rid of the evidence, rather than people being hungry and needing food.

However, while these studies suggest that crime isn’t directly related to poverty, other studies disagree. In 2016, a paper by Christopher Blattman and Jeannie Annan was published that studied how the use of employment programs to rehabilitate high-risk men could deter them from crime and violence. In this study, reliable employment helped keep men at work, which resulted in participants being 25 percent less likely to engage in illicit work or other activities.

Factors of Crime

Although economic opportunity doesn’t seem to be the direct source of crime, the socioeconomic factors surrounding economic opportunity provides a clearer look at what sparks crime. These factors can include the quality of education in a community, the quality of a community’s police force and criminal justice system, and the types of jobs available.

Whether the community is in an urban, suburban, or rural area, poverty and crime are prevalent everywhere. They are only more prevalent in urban areas due to their larger populations. However, suburban areas have experienced a huge increase in poverty rates, as wages remain stagnant and housing prices as well as cost of living continue to increase. A lack of clean and safe housing can create an unstable and difficult environment.

People who experience poverty, and a lack of education, healthcare and stability are the most vulnerable populations that need to be safeguarded. This combination of factors can put people in situations that make it difficult for them to manage their physical and mental health, which can deter a person’s judgement and increase their chances of committing crimes.

Other factors include the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, which is responsible for reducing crime by putting dangerous people behind bars where they will hopefully change their behavior. In theory, this should help put better people out into our society. However, this depends solely on how well police officers are doing their job and how they’re balancing efforts to handle important crimes and resolve petty civil issues.

Although people in prison aren’t always rehabilitated, getting them off the streets also helps keep crime rates down. The criminal justice system has a large impact on their communities, and how well they serve citizens is reflected through the cycle of crime residents experience. In areas with high rates of crime, poor education, and a lack of economic opportunities, it’s likely that kids and teenagers will accept this type of behavior in their lives.

Crime and poverty are multifaceted issues that must be examined carefully to find solutions and bring crime rates down. However, unemployment rates and stagnant wages are not the only factors that contribute to high rates of crime. There are many circumstances that contribute to high crime rates. Although poverty is not the direct cause of crime, it factors greatly into the issue, proving just another way that those in the lower classes are underserved.

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