Crime and inflation
But there’s also bad news in the recent trends: Many other types of crime, particularly property offenses, are rising. Thefts and robberies in major cities increased by around 20 percent in the first half of 2022, after falling or plateauing the previous two years, the Council on Criminal Justice found.
Several factors explain the increases, experts said. A big one is inflation.
America’s last major crime wave, from the 1960s through the early ’90s, happened alongside a rise in inflation for much of the same time period. That likely was not a coincidence, said Richard Rosenfeld, whose research has linked crime and inflation.
How can inflation lead to more crime? For one, there is a direct link: People might try to get around higher prices by stealing. But a bigger dynamic is also at play, Rosenfeld said: Higher prices can push people to seek cheaper — and potentially stolen — goods at gray markets, such as pawn shops. These purchases effectively boost demand for stolen goods, enticing more thieves and robbers.
Another potential link between crime and inflation is that rising prices can cause broader social distress and discord. When people feel they can no longer afford what they could before, they can lose faith in institutions, particularly the government, and in the direction of their lives. Those people can then lash out, sometimes through crime. (That dynamic helped explain the crime surge that began in the 1960s, some experts believe.)
All of this can eventually lead to more serious crimes, too. Robberies sometimes escalate into murders. Disputes at markets for stolen goods can turn violent. Social discord likely fueled the recent spike in shootings (as my colleague David Leonhardt has explained).
In 2022, inflation does not seem to be leading to more shootings and murders — a sign that the other forces, like the receding of Covid, may be even stronger.