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“Last Hired, First Fired”: The Effect of the Unemployment Rate on the Probability of Repeat Offending

Abstract

Research examining the connection between the unemployment rate and the aggregate crime is inconclusive. One explanation for the inconsistent findings is that the unemployment rate influences the criminal activity of repeat and first-time offenders in different ways. Results support this thesis by revealing an inverted U-shaped association between the unemployment rate and the probability of repeat offending. The curvilinear relationship likely results from repeat offenders and those lacking a criminal record entering and exiting the labor force at different levels of unemployment. Our findings highlight the role that the unemployment rate plays in affecting repeat offending and underscore the importance of distinguishing between repeat and first-time offending when analyzing the effect of the unemployment rate on crime.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    See Allen (1996) and Vieraitis (2000) for comprehensive reviews of this literature.

  2. 2.

    Besides having an economic impact, the stigma of a criminal record can also have social ramifications by magnifying an individual’s difficulty in finding a spouse or by attenuating the probability that a person will be admitted to a university (Rasmusen, 1996).

  3. 3.

    Another potential reason for the chronic unemployment among repeat offenders is that these individuals have characteristics, traits, and experiences prior to a conviction that greatly diminish their likelihood of obtaining and retaining quality employment and that serve to shape criminal propensity independent of fluctuations in employment rates and related economic conditions (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990).

  4. 4.

    However, it is important to note that 2007 marked the beginning of an economic recession in the U.S. (Mian & Sufi, 2010).

  5. 5.

    Although an individual is not typically classified as a criminal offender until he or she is convicted in a criminal court, we use offender throughout the manuscript to describe the defendant in order to remain consistent.

  6. 6.

    One county was dropped from the analysis because it was missing data on the crime rate variable.

  7. 7.

    A low unemployment rate has other positive consequences such as reducing welfare dependency and decreasing poverty levels (Layard, Nickell & Jackman, 2005).

  8. 8.

    Our decision to conduct a nonlinear analysis was further supported by a visual examination of the scatterplots for the variables included in the analysis, which suggested the possibility of an inverted U-shaped relationship between the unemployment rate and the likelihood of repeat offending.

  9. 9.

    However, it is important to note that while the expected probabilities of some of the unemployment rates were higher than the mean rate during the time period that these data were collected (i.e., ten of the counties had unemployment rates in 1999 that exceeded 5 %), only a few of the counties had extremely high unemployment rates. Because of the small number of counties with extremely high unemployment rates during the observation period, one should view the evidence supporting an inverted U-shaped relationship between the unemployment rate and the probability of repeat offending with some healthy skepticism until further research is conducted.

  10. 10.

    Although juveniles prosecuted as adults comprise only 2.6 % of the total number of prosecuted offenders, we excluded these juvenile offenders and re-estimated our equations to help ensure that our results remained robust across different specifications. The results produced from this analysis were nearly identical to the findings reported in Table 3.

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Correspondence to Stewart J. D’Alessio.

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D’Alessio, S.J., Stolzenberg, L. & Eitle, D. “Last Hired, First Fired”: The Effect of the Unemployment Rate on the Probability of Repeat Offending. Am J Crim Just 39, 77–93 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-013-9199-1

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Keywords

  • Unemployment rate
  • Repeat offending
  • First-time offending