Tuesday, December 27, 2011

America's Remarkable Decline in Crime

If you need some good news this holiday season, think about crime. Charles Lane:
Between 1991 and 2010, the homicide rate in the United States fell 51 percent, from 9.8 per 100,000 residents to 4.8 per 100,000. Property crimes such as burglary also fell sharply during that period; auto theft, once the bane of urban life, dropped an astonishing 64 percent. And FBI data released Dec. 19 show that the trends continued in the first half of 2011. With luck, the United States could soon equal its lowest homicide rate of the modern era: 4.0 per 100,000, recorded in 1957.
The reasons for this decline are obscure and we may never fully understand them. Economics does not seem to explain it: the decline continued in good economic years and bad, not in any way connected to the unemployment rate or GDP growth. The decline corresponds to the "war on crime" and the great increase in imprisonment, which peaked in 2008 with 1.4 million American behind bars. The number crunchers say, though, that incarceration can't be the whole story, and anyway for the last two years the prison population has been shrinking. The aging population is a factor, but only a minor one. Other explanations abound: the cleanup of lead, legal abortion, violent video games, changes in the drug trade. It may be the process got started in some nearly random way and then became self-sustaining, as expectations of safety grew among both gang kids and civilians.

However it happened, it certainly is good news, especially for young men and people who live in big cities. And it has gone on long enough to finally penetrate the minds of Americans, who continued to insist all through the 90s that crime was still going up. Today the number of people who fear walking alone at night near their homes is down, and crime has nearly dropped off the political radar:
In August 1994, 52 percent of Americans told Gallup that crime was the most important issue facing the country; in November 2011, only 1 percent gave that answer.

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