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Striking at the Roots of Crime: The Impact of Social Welfare Spending on Crime During the Great Depression

Author

Listed:
  • Ryan S. Johnson
  • Shawn Kantor
  • Price V. Fishback

Abstract

The Great Depression of the 1930s led contemporaries to worry that people hit by hard times would turn to crime in their efforts to survive. Franklin Roosevelt argued that the unprecedented and massive expansion in relief efforts "struck at the roots of crime" by providing subsistence income to needy families. After constructing a panel data set for 81 large American cities for the years 1930 through 1940, we estimate the impact of relief spending by all levels of government on crime rates. The analysis suggests that a ten percent increase in relief spending during the 1930s lowered property crime by roughly 1.5 percent. By limiting the amount of free time for relief recipients, work relief was more effective than direct relief in reducing crime. More generally, our results indicate that social insurance, which tends to be understudied in economic analyses of crime, should be more explicitly and more carefully incorporated into the analysis of temporal and spatial variations in criminal activity.

Suggested Citation

  • Ryan S. Johnson & Shawn Kantor & Price V. Fishback, 2007. "Striking at the Roots of Crime: The Impact of Social Welfare Spending on Crime During the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 12825, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12825
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Raphael, Steven & Winter-Ember, Rudolf, 2001. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 259-283, April.
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    13. John J. Wallis & Price V. Fishback & Shawn E. Kantor, 2006. "Politics, Relief, and Reform. Roosevelt's Efforts to Control Corruption and Political Manipulation during the New Deal," NBER Chapters,in: Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America's Economic History, pages 343-372 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Reyes, Luis Carlos, 2014. "Estimating the Causal Effect of Forced Eradication on Coca Cultivation in Colombian Municipalities," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 70-84.
    2. Sarnikar, Supriya & Sorensen, Todd A. & Oaxaca, Ronald L., 2007. "Do You Receive a Lighter Prison Sentence Because You Are a Woman? An Economic Analysis of Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines," IZA Discussion Papers 2870, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. O’Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2015. "Urban Crime," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N41 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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