Youth, Violent Crime, and Labor Market Conditions

Ruth D. Peterson, The Ohio State University
Laurie Krivo, The Ohio State University

Economic disadvantage is widely considered as critical for explaining variation in levels of criminal violence. Consistent with this view, a long tadition of research examining rates of crime has demonstrated that poverty is an essential macrostructural source of higher levels of violence. Extending this literature, some recent scholars have focused attention on the role of labor market opportunities, and not just poverty, as a critical cause of delinquency and violent crime. For example, Wilson (1996) considers the loss of work in the legal economy, particularly in stable high-paying jobs, as central to the increases in community social dislocation observed in many urban neighborhoods. Crutchfield and his colleagues (Crutchfield 1989; Crutchfield and Pitchford 1997; Crutchfield, Glusker, and Bridges 1999) and Bellair and Roscigno (2000) also argue that weak labor market opportunities are more fundamental than poverty in generating crime. In this paper, we draw on these recent works to explore the role of labor market conditions in neighborhood rates of violent crime. Specifically, we extend prior work by examining whether distinct aspects of labor market opportunity have varying effects on violent crime rates for youth, young adults, and older adults. Youth have weaker attachments to the labor market and tend to work in lower paying and less stable jobs than their older counterparts. We, therefore, explore whether low-wage jobs and secondary sector employment levels have stronger effects on violent crime among youth than other age groups. We also consider whether overall joblessness has a more important effect on criminal violence among the older age group that should have a stronger attachment to the labor market. Results for census tracts in Cleveland, Ohio demonstrate that joblessness and low-wage jobs are significant predictors of neighborhood rates of violent crime. However the influence of low wage jobs is significant only for those under 25 years of age, while the effect of joblessness is significant only for groups 20 and over.

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Updated 05/20/2006