Despite the scarcity of crime records from the time period, most historians believe that crime rates did not rise during the Great Depression. Some even claim that crime has decreased. This might be because so many individuals were struggling that they were less likely to steal from one another. Also, police departments across the country were reduced in size during this time, which could have made them seem like a less effective deterrent for criminals.
Some cities, such as Detroit, saw serious increases in crime, but this was due to problems with poverty and unemployment long before the Great Depression began. During that era, millions of Americans were out of work and had no means of paying for food or shelter. This makes it unlikely that violent crimes would have increased anyway. After all, why steal when you can't find a job?
It is true that during times of economic hardship, there are often issues with property crime. This is because so many people are without jobs and therefore have no way of protecting their homes or businesses. When this happens, thieves will break into houses and offices to look for valuable items to steal.
However, crimes against people tend to decline during periods of economic distress. This is probably because there are fewer opportunities for criminals to act out violently against others. Sometimes victims may feel too poor to report crimes, so they may not be counted in official statistics. However, this does not mean that violence against people is decreasing overall.
While the national unemployment rate almost doubled from roughly 5% to nearly 10%, property crime declined dramatically rather than soaring. The FBI reports that violent crime decreased by about 7%. This decline came as public safety resources were being stretched to the limit by the war effort against Nazi Germany and Japanese Japan.
Crime was at its highest level in 1952, when there were 3.5 million unemployed people, so this drop in crime was not just due to fewer people being out of work. There were also fewer people available for crime since many men were in the military or working on government projects.
Overall, crime was relatively low during the Great Depression, especially compared with today's levels. There were simply less jobs and opportunities for criminals to steal from or hurt people.
The first two decades of the nineteenth century As a proxy for cyclical economic swings, the unemployment rate was also a major predictor of crime rates. After a lengthy period of decline, the number of crimes recorded by police agencies across Great Britain began to rise again in 1816, just as the country's economy started to improve. Further increases came in 1825 and 1826, when unemployment dropped to low levels, followed by declines in 1827 and 1828. The next rise occurred in 1829, when unemployment had risen back to its previous level. These correlations between changes in the unemployment rate and fluctuations in the crime rate suggest that rising unemployment leads to more crime.
However, it is not possible to say for certain that higher unemployment leads to increased crime. One possibility is that people who would have otherwise been employed didn't commit crimes because they were looking for work. Another possibility is that criminals felt less restraint from fear of being found out, or feeling humiliated by being turned away from job interviews so they acted out their frustrations through crime. Still another possibility is that individuals who would have otherwise stayed within the law decided to break it instead - for example, by taking money from victims without their consent. Changes in the severity of sentencing could also explain some of this correlation. For example, judges are usually willing to give offenders who show remorse shorter sentences than those who do not.