Walmart is no ordinary retailer. The retail company employs more people than any other private company in the world, and where Walmart goes, big economic changes, both positive and negative, tend to follow. Scholars have long tried to quantify the “Walmart effect,” looking at how the company drives economic growth and affects the surrounding community’s labor markets and poverty rates and food sales, among other factors.
The latest addition to the world of Walmart scholarship is not a mark in the company’s favor. A recent study in the British Journal of Criminology links the appearance of Walmart stores to less of a decline in crime rates, compared with similar counties where Walmart didn’t move in.
Overall, there was a sharp decline in crime in the U.S. in the 1990s. It also happened to be a period of growth for Walmart. Looking at more than 3,000 U.S. counties, the researchers, from the University of South Carolina and Sam Houston State University, found that where Walmart expanded, crime rates tended to stagnate, where they otherwise would have been expected to fall.
“If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and two additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county,” according to Scott Wolfe, the study’s lead author. His study doesn’t argue that Walmart causes higher crime rates, but the statistics may reveal a pattern in the places the company chooses to build stores. “There is something unique about the counties that Walmart selects,” Wolfe said in a press statement. For one thing, the company tended to expand in counties that already had higher than average crime rates.
Why this may be isn’t yet clear, and it’s a topic for further research. The researchers hypothesize the link could be related to the social dynamics that make it possible for Walmart to open a store. Places where there is a lot of community organization–cities, for instance, where local activists might vocally oppose a new Walmart–tend to have lower crime rates. In communities with higher crime rates, people may not have the social capital to put up a fight against Walmart moving in. Certainly, the issue bears a deeper look. The true price of that discount Walmart DVD player may be higher than you think.