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Sudden layoffs can lead to higher rates of violence & property crimes, study finds

Recently-released academic research found a 20% increase in criminal charges a year after layoffs caused by economic disruptions.

CLEVELAND — Times of economic uncertainty can be scary. Involuntary job loss, stemming from over-arching economic disruption, can also lead to a spike in criminal behavior, according to just-released research by an economist at Case Western Reserve University. 

Published in Labour Economics, the research compiled data of more than 1 million laid-off Norwegian workers between the ages of 18-40. Of those studied, nearly 84,000 had experienced an involuntary job displacement during the analysis period. 

As the economic fallout from COVID-19 persists, this may shed light to what's ahead. 

"Layoffs lead to an increase of criminal charges against displaced workers, while also decreasing their future earnings and full-time opportunities," says Mark Votruba, co-author of the study and an associate professor of economics in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.

"According to the study, workers let go through no fault of their own experienced:

  • a 60% jump in property crimes charges in the year after a downsizing;
  • a decrease in earnings by 10 to 15% in the immediate years following displacement
  • a substantial increase in the likelihood of remaining unemployed or working less than full-time;
  • an overall 20% increase in criminal-charge rates in the year after a layoff;
  • and a dramatic increase in non-property crimes—violent and serious traffic offenses, as well as drug/alcohol-related acts—committed on weekdays."

The research indicates that with the loss of daily routine and income through the workforce, an increase in weekday crime can result. "“The old adage that idle hands are the devil’s workshop appears to have some truth to it,” said Votruba. “This unfortunate link (to weekday crimes) highlights the importance of psychological factors—such as mental distress, self-control, financial concerns and frustration—in determining counterproductive behavior.” 

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