Employment, unemployment, and crime to obtain more income

Several theses maintain that unemployment - and the consequent lack of income - is among the main factors why people choose to get involved in crime.

Employment, unemployment, and crime to obtain more income
Photo by Jonathan Rados / Unsplash

Several theses maintain that unemployment - and the consequent lack of income - is among the main factors why people choose to get involved in crime; however, other theories maintain that workers in precarious employment conditions and low wages are the main individuals who are inclined to commit crimes, to obtain more income to complete their economic needs.

The first of these is the motivational perspective, which assumes that there is a positive relationship between unemployment and crime based on an extrapolation of the combination at the individual level of sentimental processes and rational choice.

This theory, put forward by Carlos Resa Nestares, of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), determines that it is thus considered that the higher the level of unemployment, and therefore the worse the economic circumstances of the social groups, the more likely it is that the individuals making up the group will be involved in criminal acts.

It also describes that two are the essential sources that generate this positive relationship between crime and the level of unemployment within a social group, with the result that many individuals do not have an income. On the one hand, there is the tendency to frustration generated in people by not being able to obtain and maintain a job, with the income it entails, while the instincts to improve or stabilize the individual's standard of living are intact.

Resa Nestares connects this theorization with those theories that concentrate on income inequalities as a source of higher levels of crime. The theory of relative deprivation has as a consequence the anger of individuals and the subsequent criminal behavior, which constitutes, apart from a source of income, an expression through which they reveal the frustration felt with society in general, which from the individual and group perspective only does not offer sufficient channels for insertion, including well-paid employment in good working conditions.

However, it is not only the frustration caused by unemployment and the rational choice of inserting oneself in crime that motivates crime. The second theory refers to the perspective of opportunity, according to which the level of criminality would be a function of the supply of potential criminals and appropriate targets for victimization.

From the perspective of Resa Nestares, the essential difference between the two major hypotheses regarding the relationship of unemployment, and economic circumstances in general, to crime would be significant. That is, the opportunity effects are most likely to be observable in the short term since changes in the circulation of people and goods are immediate reactions to changes in the economic environment and fluctuations in unemployment, while motivational motivations present a more pronounced temporal delay and only become visible for persistent changes in unemployment figures.

Consequently, as opportunities to find a new job are inhibited by depressed conditions in the labor market, financial needs become more pressing and motivations for crime increase, either because of an increase in frustration caused by the persistence of the unemployment situation or because with time and the sociological environment described above, crime begins to be perceived as a more lucrative solution than non-criminal behavior and detached from its negative moral connotations, the UAM study states.

On the same problem, but in a particular study on Mexico, the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), conducted by Marcelo Bergman, shows that there is another component between the world of work and the world of crime, and this is the income that does not provide the worker with sufficient economic satisfaction to compensate for their needs.

The CIDE's research shows that the majority of those who commit crimes also work regularly, so it is not only unemployment itself but the quality and type of employment that best explains the degree of "professionalism" in criminal activity. The vast majority of workers in Mexico, the study says, who resort to transgressions of the rules, do so to complete a scarce income and/or probably to pay for an addiction problem.

Notwithstanding the problem, the CIDE points out that "not everyone, not even the great majority of the unemployed, even the marginalized unemployed, commit crimes... it can be argued that as the proportion of poor and unemployed grows, so does the fraction of those who enter the criminal career; therefore, the greater the poverty or greater the unemployment, the greater the number of criminals..."

Based on data from Mexico, Marcelo Bergman maintains that it is not unemployment in itself that drives young people to commit crimes; on the contrary, points out, most young people who offend in Mexico also work. However, it is the quality of the work that correlates most strongly with criminality. Young people who steal or assault have serious difficulties in getting into jobs stable and with working conditions that allow sustained individual growth.

Both the CIDE and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid agree that jobs in low-paying occupations, poor employment conditions, and high job instability cause these individuals to be unable to forge strong links with their workplace. The deterioration of labor relations, therefore, leads workers to engage in crime. "The poor labor supply and the high productivity that crime has, explains in part the high crime rate".

In this sense, as labor conditions deteriorate, wage compensation is reduced, widening the income gap in the population while crime increases; the inequality and unequal distribution of income that explains crime is produced by the growing deterioration of labor markets, says the CIDE.

When an analysis was made of which economic sector is most susceptible to crime, it was found that the workers most exposed are those in the secondary sector - an economic activity whose purpose is the production of goods and services; here, unlike in the primary sector, unemployment occurs in a discontinuous manner, interspersed with periods of inactivity in highly precarious occupations.

Contrary to workers in the primary sector -based on the exploitation of natural resources- with stable jobs and better remuneration, who develop strong social relations with other individuals in the workplace and their professional field, workers in the secondary sector, in the absence of lasting professional ties, must resort to other fields to develop their friendships, which generally occur among the high concentrations of unemployed, characterized by low levels of income and opportunities for upward mobility.

Marcelo Bergman argues that crime is moderately associated with labor market weakness and that the correlation looks stronger with youth unemployment, and perhaps the most important evidence is that labor market weakness seems to better explain the strong increases in crime, but improved employment does not seem to have a similar effect in reducing it. "In other words, the labor market may better account for growth rather than crime reduction". Once crime rates rise with unemployment, they no longer return to their old levels when the labor market improves.

To support the relationship between unemployment and crime, the research is based on several surveys made to inmates in Mexico, from which it is inferred that at least 90% of the inmates interviewed, answered that they were working the month before being arrested for the crime they were sentenced. However, the characteristic is that most of the inmates had jobs in "fragile" dependency relationships; that is to say, a large number of individuals accepted to have worked on their own, either in manual jobs, assistance in various service and trade tasks, or as a driver/taxi.

Before their detention, it is worth noting that the jobs that the inmates held -40% of whom were between 18 and 30 years- were in the private sector, commerce, self-employment, and the public sector, among others. Therefore, the salary was an important source of their economic perceptions; however, the search for additional income to work to cover unsatisfied needs is linked to complementing the family income, satisfying some immediate need, and/or financing the consumption of alcohol or some type of substance or enervating agent.

As can be observed through the research of both the CIDE and the UAM, beyond the rational decision of the individual and the frustration of the effect of unemployment and not having an economic income, as causes for establishing a relationship between people in a position to work and crime, job insecurity is another factor, understood as workers who work under a covert, ambiguous or triangular work relationship.

In a broad concept, the International Labor Organization (ILO) explains that precarious work is a means used by employers to transfer risks and responsibilities to workers. It is work that is carried out in the formal and informal economy and is characterized by variable levels and degrees of objective (legal situation) and subjective (feeling) uncertainty and insecurity.

The ILO also points out that although precarious work can have various facets, it is often defined by the uncertainty it entails in terms of the duration of employment, the presence of several potential employers, a disguised or ambiguous working relationship, the impossibility of enjoying the social protection and benefits generally associated with employment, a low salary and considerable legal and practical obstacles to joining a union and bargaining collectively.

Therefore, the labor, social and economic costs of linking the world of work with the world of crime have implications for all actors in the labor field, due to their heterogeneous and multifaceted nature. While it is not a question of generalizing, it must be recognized that some employers are always trying to circumvent regulations or find loopholes in legislation to increase the profitability of their businesses at the expense of their workers.

The social costs of youth unemployment go far, as it contributes to problems with a high social price tag such as poor health, broken relationships and families, increased crime, and significant additional spending needs. Unemployment erodes the stability of communities and threatens social cohesion. As for crime among unemployed youth, for example, it increases if the way society deals with the problem, encouraging more antisocial behavior and attitudes.

The social and economic costs of unemployment, inactivity, and poverty in the long term include the loss of production, the erosion of professional qualifications, the reduction of the level of activity, and the increase of social differences. Unemployment wastes some of the scarce resources used to train and empower workers to be more productive.

In addition, long-term unemployed workers may lose skills as they become increasingly out of step in a rapidly changing labor market. This reduces their chances of obtaining employment in the future, which in turn increases the economic burden on public administrations and society.

This lost productivity is magnified over the course of the life cycle. In the context of today's youth demographics, persistent unemployment represents a significant loss of human capital.

On personal costs, the overwhelming reality is that unemployment, and especially prolonged unemployment, has a terrible and cumulative price for the individual. Prolonged unemployment tends to become even more oppressive and leads to a life of subsistence, loss of personal autonomy and control, frustration, anger, deteriorating self-esteem, and social alienation. There is medical evidence of a relationship between unemployment and psychological and physical illness in young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Regarding the cost of the companies, it is also important, because they can suffer economic, material, and human losses. It has been demonstrated that when the worker is dissatisfied with the working environment in the workplace, there is a low sense of identity and belonging to the company; likewise, labor productivity tends to decrease, and work accidents can occur.

On other occasions, due to low labor and salary standards, workers tend to cause patrimonial damages to the company through reprocessing, theft of tools, materials, or finished products. The evidence indicates that those workers who enter the world of work in precarious labor situations, most of them will commit crimes such as theft, fraud or would be willing to commit more violent and predatory crimes.

Without a doubt, the challenge is great. To fight unemployment means to reduce informality; it means to end precarious jobs, no training, and no social security for workers. It implies placing more than 1.1 million people informal employment in the country. But above all, informality means low productivity and low competitiveness of the economy.

At present, nearly 50 million people work in Mexico. Of these, only 20 million people have formal employment, another 30 million Mexicans are in what is called the informal labor sector and this causes companies to be 40% less productive. The consequences of this reality prevent the country from advancing at the pace needed by young people who have not yet entered the labor market, and this causes the country's global competitiveness to decline significantly.

The degree of permeability of crime in the world of work and the migration of salaried workers to commit criminal acts is closely linked to the precariousness of labor; that is why we must promote not only the creation of more and better quality jobs but also the increase of salaries through bilateral productivity programs, an area in which workers participate, to make labor productivity more attractive than that currently offered by crime.

In this context, inequality of opportunity and uneven distribution of wealth and income explain some of the causes of crime. It is necessary and urgent to strengthen the link between the factors of production, to energize the labor market, to guarantee peace in the country, collaboration, and permanent and productive dialogue, between the factors of production and the government.

Faced with the problem of precarious employment, a State labor policy that allows for a transition from informality to formality in the workplace cannot be postponed; such a policy must have as its guiding principle that all efforts be directed towards improving the conditions and quality of life of Mexican workers.

By Marcelo García Molar, Head of the Department of Economic Analysis of CONAMPROS, Original Source: Mundo del Trabajo Magazine No. 88