For the third straight year, even as the Great Recession pummels ever more people into poverty, the national crime rate has dropped. Murder, rape, burglary — almost every kind of criminality has fallen, with the rate of violent crime and property crime dropping by another 5% in 2009. Since 1991, the United States has seen the murder and manslaughter rate drop by half, violence in general fall by a third, and automobile theft dropping by half in real numbers. There are many theories about this steady collapse of America’s Criminal Will, from our insane rate of imprisonment to low (or no) price inflation. But what if our country’s sad, impoverished people are simply too obese to go out and do the hard work of mugging or busting into houses?
The numbers are impossible to argue against, unless they’re all made up. (And, considering these numbers come from the cops, it might be safer to say, “Of course these numbers are made up, because cops are congenitally required to either fuck everything up or just lie about it, to frame a black kid somewhere.”) Anyway, they are numbers and they are in the news tonight, so let’s quote some of them:
Last year, the rate of murders and manslaughter was 5.0 per 100,000 Americans, down from 9.8 in 1991. Overall, the rate of violent crimes fell more than a third during that time, from a rate of 758 per 100,000 in 1991 to 429 last year. This number includes homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults.
Common property crimes also declined sharply over the last two decades. For example, the FBI counted 1,661,000 thefts of motor vehicles in 1991. Last year, it counted 794,616, a drop of 164,000 vehicle thefts from 2008.
And this is happening (or not happening) as the “official” U.S. poverty rate tops 15% and the real unemployment rate is somewhere around one-in-five workers and a sense of Permanent Despair settles upon the nation. In other times of turmoil — the 1960s, the Great Depression — common folk have been driven to break the law, both as a means of survival and as a kind of rage-driven protest against the collapse of their economic security, however tenuous it might’ve been.
Now, the do-nothing American Poor “contradict predictions that a bad economy and high unemployment would lead to an increase in thefts, robberies and other crimes.”
The fact that more than one in three Americans is morbidly obese and more than two in three are medically overweight just might explain it, especially when you consider the lopsided obesity rates for minorities and the poor. This is implied by some academic theories about the continuing drop in U.S. crime rates.
The fact that there has been less mobility among Americans in recent years may be a factor in keeping crime in check, too. Chicago School sociologists have long postulated that neighborhoods that experience high population turnover often fail to develop “informal social structures” that help deter crime.
Demographer Bill Frey at the Brookings Institution is among those who have documented a sharp drop in transience in the past few years, signaling that Americans are both staying put and, perhaps in the process, paying more attention to their communities.
Sure, they’re talking about foreclosures and other chains that keep people from heading off to a new frontier where there’s work to be had — and one of those chains is the lack of any place to go, because the economy isn’t booming for laborers anywhere in this doomed country — but crime is often physical work involving long hours on your feet. Carjacking cannot be done from a sofa with seven Domino’s boxes spread across your thighs.
Another interesting theory (not made up by your Wonkette) is that property crime has in large part fallen because there’s not much property anybody wants. When every hovel is well equipped with a flatscreen and an xBox and a ‘puter and a double-door fridge you can at least keep filled with the basic varieties of corn syrup, what exactly can be sold on the “black market,” beyond delicious, mind-altering drugs? And aren’t we really at a place in American Post-History when the easiest thing to do with the unwanted/unneeded 90% of the population is to mail them a combo envelope of Oxycontin and Netflix every week, forever?