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How COVID-19 layoffs could lead to an increase in crime

How COVID-19 layoffs could lead to an increase in crime
[Photo: Evan Wise/Unsplash]

Did you know that your occupation may be all that stands between you and a life of crime? It is. According to a new study of 1 million laid-off Norwegians over 15 years, out-of-work people commit 60% more property crimes (such as theft, shoplifting, burglary, and vandalism) in the year after losing work and have 20% more criminal charges than when employed.

These are huge numbers, and very relevant as U.S. workers face layoffs nationwide in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers suspect that layoff crime is even more prevalent in the U.S., but no U.S. data exists connecting individuals’ employment and crime data.

“Norway has a strong social safety net that makes job loss less painful there than in the U.S.,” says coauthor Mark Votruba, an associate professor of economics in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve. “Both the income and psychological effects of job loss are likely more severe in the U.S.”

The researchers chalk up the crime sprees to a potent combination of too much free time and psychological stressors such as frustration and financial worry. The lack of structured weekday schedules also plays a strong part: Most of the new crimes are committed on weekdays, during the hours when workers were previously employed. The main crimes are property crimes, violent crimes, and alcohol and drug crimes.

The study tracked male workers ages 18-40. The researchers initially included women but found that laid-off women did not commit enough crimes to be included.

The news comes at a pivotal time: Workers in the events, hospitality, and retail industries are already watching their companies shrink and shutter as COVID-19 forces the cancellation of large gatherings and travel. The take-home message: People do best when they are engaged and sober, and the researchers hope to see activity and substance abuse prevention programs.

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