The Burglary Recession

There’s at least one unexpected benefit of rising unemployment. More people are staying home during working hours and going out less often at night. That means there’s less chance they’ll be burglarized. In St. Louis County, Mo., burglaries are down 35 percent this year; in Minneapolis, they’re down 15 percent. There was a 14 percent falloff in Phoenix, which has also seen an 81 percent increase in foreclosures this year, leaving one to wonder if there are simply fewer houses there with anything left inside to steal. It also presents a question for the criminologists in the audience: when burglars can no longer burgle, do they turn to other kinds of crime? [%comments]


Thank you for using the word "burgle;" it is a wonderful Anglo-Saxon verb!


Any correlation between the depth of the recession in the areas affected and the decrease in burglaries?


Is there any job security left in the world? If you can't even steal for a living, what can you do?


This is simply false. I believe you yourself acknowledged the correlation between rising crime rates and increasing poverty in Freakonomics. Not every correlation that can be found through data manipulation means there is an actual relationship.
This decrease in burglaries could just as easily be related to an increase in police forces due to the stimulus spending or it could be related to nothing at all.
The weather is getting colder, could it be that there is in fact an inverse relationship between crime rates and the temperature?

2nd Amendment

Could the recent 1,000,000+ person increase in gun ownership also be a contributing factor here?


Or, more realistically, the ones who are out of work and want more money and have nothing productive to do during the day will just burgle those who are working.

Heck, they already do it through the tax code. Why not a little extra "vigilante justice" on the side? Serves those rich fatcats right.


@#4 - Or burglaries could be down but other property crimes could be up. I'm thinking of armed robberies (muggings) in particular. Insurance fraud. Check fraud. Auto theft. Pick-pocketing. Etc.

katherine j


Robberies in my area are UP. Laborers are out of work and getting more desperate by the day.


Maybe the people are home and they categorize them as home invasions or if they are harmed--assaults or homocides.


You don't think burglars are freaked out by the rise in hand gun purchases?


I wonder if all of the property crime is directed towards foreclosed houses which is then categorized differently.


Here's some insight from a criminologist. This observation (i.e., decreasing burglaries associated with increasing unemployment) is exactly what Routine Activities Theory hypothesizes. Routine Activities Theory is a criminological theory which posits that crime happens when: 1) a motivated offender, 2) a suitable target, and 3) a lack of a capable guardian converge in time and space. For example, according to Felson and Cohen's (1979) first exposition of Routine Activities Theory, the increase of women in the workforce since the 1960s can explain a subsequent increase in burglary rates since more women in the workforce translates into more empty houses without a "guardian" at home to deter potential offenders. So it seems to me that these statistics are quite predictable based on Routine Activities theory.

As to the question of whether burglars turn to other kinds of crime when they can no longer burgle, this is a bit more tricky to examine. What we know from a longstanding body of research (see Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990 for a good summary) is that offenders are more generalists than they are specialists. Thus, it is entirely conceivable that there could be a whole shift in offending patterns when burglary becomes no longer feasible. More recently, however, some criminologists have found more specialization in offending than was previously believed to be. This research is ground-breaking; it will be interesting to track its development. Combine this with the conclusion coming from some research within the Rational Choice camp of criminology which finds evidence of certain types of offenders tending to specialize (e.g., older offenders, property offenders), and it could also be possible that a large fraction of burglars will simply "retire" when burglary becomes no longer feasible. This is a dissertation waiting to happen. If I were doing the dissertation, I would also draw upon the "hot spots policing" literature which has examined the extent to which crime just "moves around the corner" when targeted police enforcement strategies are used. The tentative conclusion so far from the "hot spots policing" literature is that crime does not move around the corner, but instead there is typically a diffusion of crime control benefits to neighboring places.

There is a lot more that could be said here, especially about the possibility of burglars "retiring" (or "desisting" as criminologists call it) due to fewer burglary opportunities. It's a fascinating trend. Thanks for posting.



If someone is home it's a home invasion, not a burglary. Are home invasion numbers up?


Time was when a crook could find work anywhere he went.
Time was when a criminal could stand up proud and tall!
Time was when a coupl'a doller always paid the rent.
Time was when a small time caper didn't seem so small
At all....

Michael Hollinger, playright,
from “Big Time – the bank-heist musical”


...or the burglars find more lucrative targets...


1. As earlier comment stated - first make sure equal statistics are being compared (burglarly versus robbery)

2. I've also seen a plausible theory that the kinds of things that used to be stolen and fenced, such as computers, TVs, DVD players, etc., now are relatively expensive and widely deployed, making the past-theft resale value of the item much less attractive. I look around my house and imagine that even if I did a perfectly legal garage sale I'd be lucky to pull in a few hundred dollars, and an illegal fencing operation would take only a fraction of that.


interesting to see Nicholas Cage travelling to the UK to switch on christmas lights in the city of Bath of all places, and Kevin Costner doing an advert for Turkish Airlines...we are in a tough recession huh, at least it saves them having to burgle, keeps them on the straight and narrow.


@ #16 - it would be interesting to see how pawn shop inventories have increased, and any impact this may have had on prices paid for the goods they purchase from the general public

yuriy in canuckistan

# 4 thesoby

You are taking a large leap in logic by equating poverty levels with joblessness (and therefore stay-at-homeness). Unfortunately it is quite possible to be employed (sometimes at several part-time jobs at once) and still be living in poverty. This of course means that you are rarely at home, and that in any case, the best you can afford is a place next door to the local burglar. The local burglar in turn, is not so much concerned about how poorly off you are, but rather sees the TV that you worked so hard for as a valuable trade good.

Therefore the correlation of rising crime rates and increasing poverty do not negate the theorem that job loss (which in many cases causes people to move away from the neighbourhoods they used to inhabit) leads to lower crime rates in those same neighbourhoods.


Perfect!Great! This helped a bunch! I've seen several
rather confusing sites lately, this cleared up some confusion I had.