Research / BFI Working PaperApr 09, 2024

Does Nothing Stop a Bullet Like a Job? The Effects of Income on Crime

Jens Ludwig, Kevin Schnepel

Do jobs and income-transfer programs affect crime? The answer depends on why one is asking the question, which shapes what one means by “crime.” Many studies focus on understanding why overall crime rates vary across people, places, and time; since 80% of all crimes are property offenses, that’s what this type of research typically explains. But if the goal is to understand what to do about the crime problem, the focus will instead be on serious violent crimes, which account for the majority of the social costs of crime. The best available evidence suggests that policies that reduce economic desperation reduce property crime (and hence overall crime rates) but have little systematic relationship to violent crime. The difference in impacts surely stems in large part from the fact that most violent crimes, including murder, are not crimes of profit but rather crimes of passion – including rage. Policies to alleviate material hardship, as important and useful as those are for improving people’s lives and well-being, are not by themselves sufficient to also substantially alleviate the burden of crime on society.

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