Expert speaks on economy and crime


Richard Rosenfeld, past president of the American Society of Criminology, speaks at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln on Oct. 28.

Story and photos by Megan Mandel

The ongoing economic battle

The past president of the American Society of Criminology spoke at UNL Friday about the relationship between inflation, economic woes and the crime rate.

Richard Rosenfeld said the United States has been quite the economic roller coaster the past few years. Inflation has increased, unemployment has been widespread and crime rates have fluctuated throughout the country. Rosenfeld said that nearly everyone feels the strain.

“Inflation effects are widespread, but not entirely universal, “ Rosenfeld said, “but we all experience the effect of inflation.”

Rosenfeld teaches at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and serves on the Science Advisory Board of the Office of Justice Programs for the U.S. Department of Justice. Over the years, Rosenfeld has done many studies on the relationship between crime and the economy.  His findings have led to his hypotheses for what causes crime.

Rosenfeld found that the two major factors that influence crime are the economy (especially inflation) and overall consumer attitudes. He said that how people feel about their economic standing does have a direct effect on what they think about the marketplace and the goods they purchase.

The talk was filmed by the University of Nebraska Foundation for its online lecture series.

Rosenfeld explained how retail chains, such as Wal-Mart or Goodwill, usually do well in times of recession because they offer goods for less. According to Rosenfeld’s research, trends show that these stores operate on a supply and demand basis;  the need for cheap goods goes up when people have less money to spend. Therefore, businesses thrive on selling these cheap goods to the general public and succeed in the business market. But along with lower prices, said Rosenfeld, comes the possibility of potential offenders stealing the goods instead of paying the already low prices for them. This is known as acquisitive crime, Rosenfeld said. With the possession of stolen goods comes the possibility of more violent crime and thus the cycle continues, according to his research.

Karyn Sporer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, came to hear Rosenfeld speak because she was a fan of his book.

“I like his theory (about inflation and crime),” she said. “I’m interested in violence and mental illness, which is a strained population but crime rates are the complete opposite.”

Audience members included faculty, UNO and UNL criminology students.

Proving history wrong

Rosenfeld said history shows a trend of increased crime rates when the economy is bad, and decreased rates when things are good. That wasn’t the case, he said in the most recent recession. When the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008 and 2009, Rosenfeld said the opposite effect happened: prices dropped for the first time in 50 years and crime fell. This surprised analysts, he said, because it went against anything they’d seen in recessions past.

Dan Hall, a graduate student at UNO, found this and other statistics very informative and educational.

“I came to enjoy it and see something I wouldn’t normally see,” he said. “(His presentation) was very well done and had a very clear and concise argument, well sorted.”

And although it’s a numbers-heavy subject, Rosenfeld still finds the patterns and information to make it all worthwhile.

“Studying this stuff is interesting, intellectually satisfying,” he said. “I can’t think of an economic indicator that we’ve missed until I hear another, better theory.”

The talk was sponsored by the University of Nebraska Foundation and the UNL Department of Criminology.