Low Socioeconomic Status as a Cause of Increased Crime Rate

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Socioeconomic status is the social position or class of a person or group. Usually determined by a mixture of education, income and occupation. Within society an individual’s low socioeconomic status is associated with greater involvement within the criminal justice system, higher rates of criminal offending, and higher rates of various forms of victimisation. The aim of this essay is to identify whether or not low socioeconomic status affects crime within society. The first point being explored will be whether unemployment is a contributing factor, drawing on a range of studies in various countries including Australia and the UK. Then, the essay will delve into how relative deprivation and strain theory can be used in order to identify why people from low socioeconomic backgrounds commit crimes, looking at the American dream and how it creates unrealistic expectations for people who have little chance of success. Following this, disadvantaged neighbourhoods will be examined delving into broken windows theory and how deviance can soon turn into a more serious crime.

Furthermore, white-collar crimes are still persistent in society and the exploration as to why will be looked into and on the basis of that discover how Criminal Opportunity and Social disorganisation could be an explanation for why crime is committed therefore this will be explored. Criminologists are fascinated in why people commit crimes and whether there is a definitive reason behind it and most come to the conclusion that it is a persons social background that influences them into a life of crime. Many studies have found a connection between socioeconomic status and arrests and punishment. This essay will identify whether the police arrest people just on a basis of their social standing within society or whether they are justified to do so because they have actually committed an offence, whilst identifying how many people who are prosecuted are in that category. Finally, this essay will interpret statistics interpreting how woman who commit crimes that can be easily fixed can be helped not to reoffend rather than incarcerated and will explore how people from low socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be victims of crime and are more fearful being a victim of crime than a individual from a higher background.

Low socioeconomic status can be identified as an influencing factor on crime when discussing unemployment. According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), economic emphasis on unemployed parents prompts deficient parent practices, which leads to the increased risk of adolescents participating in crime. In March 2012, a research was carried out by BOCSAR, in order to determine the connection between unemployment and crime in Australia. The study found that unemployment prompts the creation of enormous salary incongruities within society leading to a rise in crime rates. Adding to this a study conducted by Elgar and Aitken (2011) discovered a strong relationship between income inequality and international variations in homicide levels, and connected this to the lower levels of interpersonal trust they recognised in societies described by relatively high-income disparity.

Similar results were identified by Rosen and Fornango (2007) who discovered that “consumer sentiment“ was consequently connected to regional property crime trends such as motor theft, robbery and burglary and that this also indirectly influences homicide rates. On the other hand, it can be argued that conclusions drawn from similar studies, likewise demonstrate that unemployment may in fact not influence the crime rate. The Office for National Statistics reported the national average of unemployment in May 2014 was 6.3%. The rate dramatically decreased in May 2019 with an average of 3.8% unemployed. While unemployment rates have decreased, the office for national statistics show a fairly flat trend in regards to violent crimes and personal property crimes, with no significant change since the survey year ending March 2014. This indicates that crime and unemployment are not related to each other in all cases. The UK and US also provide monetary benefits for people who are unemployed and although the sum is small it certainly goes a long way in deterring the unemployed from crime.

Relative deprivation theory could be used to explain why people from low socioeconomic backgrounds commit crimes. Relative deprivation occurs when individuals or groups subjectively perceive themselves as unfairly disadvantaged over others perceived as having similar attributes and deserving similar rewards. According to this theory social movements emerge when individuals feel deprived of what they see as their “ fair share” and likewise, people take part in deviant activities when their means do not correlate with their goals (Merton, 1938). “Strain” theory (Merton 1939) endeavours to clarify why deprivation and crime is not connected. The hypothesis presumes moderately consistent economic achievement goals across social classes and the theory aims to explain why crime is concentrated among lower classes that don’t have sufficient opportunities for noteworthy accomplishments.

People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more susceptible by this pressure, or strain, and will preserve their unfulfilled economic aspirations regardless of frustration and failure. Merton identified that by the time a person from a low socioeconomic background reaches rebellion they have effectively dismissed the idea that everyone can succeed and have turned to a defiant stage. They neither have faith in the valued cultural ends or the genuine societal methods used to achieve success. As indicated by Merton’s final mode theory, ritualism, individuals come to the conclusion that they have no genuine chance to progress in society and acknowledge the little significance they have. In this mode individuals focus on keeping what little they potentially gained or still have instead of focusing on bigger yield of success (Merton 1939). The ideology of the “American Dream” allows Americans to believe that their society is a meritocratic one, which basically means you receive what you work for and anyone who makes sufficient effort will receive and idealistic life.

However, in reality this opportunity isn’t achievable for everyone as many disadvantaged groups are refused the chance to succeed in a legitimate way. For example, poverty, poor schools and racism in the job market may deny opportunities for many people from ethnic or low socioeconomic backgrounds. This in time results in a strain between the cultural goal of money and success and the low likelihood of achieving it, resulting in frustration amongst individuals and pressure to resort to crime. Merton (1939) states that this pressure to commit crime is “the strain to anomie”. According to Merton the unrealistic emphasis put on people to achieve is why crimes so high, as there is no clear cut statement saying that it cannot be achieved via illegitimate means.

A low socioeconomic status can be described as an influencing factor on crime when evaluating disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Contemporary research surrounding disadvantaged neighbourhoods has found that communal factors impact a person’s relationship to crime. In a study that proposed to determine whether disadvantaged neighbourhoods are likely to commit crime, the outcome revealed that since families and people are inhibited to their residential neighbourhoods, it might prompt violent misconduct (Decoster, 2006, p.735). Another part of the study highlights how the individuals who get public assistance or families, who have low levels of education, are additionally liable to participate in violent and criminal behaviour (Decoster, 2006, p.756). This shows that low socioeconomic status when discussing disadvantaged neighbourhoods, according to various studies is a massive variable to the existence of violent and criminal behaviour amongst individuals and communities.

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Another instance that can be described as a factor influencing disadvantaged neighbourhoods in relation to crime is the police. The police have been described as institutionally unfair when making arrests within society, people from lower class backgrounds are much more likely to be arrested than individuals from a higher class background. Kirk (2008) investigated the correlation between people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnically centric neighbourhoods. The findings of his study clarified that people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods do receive a high number of arrests in comparison to higher-class individuals. Wilson and Kelling (1982) used broken windows theory as a kind of metaphor to explain deviance within neighbourhoods.

According to this view, petty crimes such as vandalism, shoplifting, loitering and public drinking cause people who aren’t deemed as “deviant” to stay at homes or move out of bad neighbourhoods entirely leaving petty criminals to stay and commit more serious crimes. This theory could be used to explain why those from disadvantaged areas are more likely to be arrested and targeted by the police. On the other hand, it can be argued that low socioeconomic status does not affect crime. Sutherland (1939) argued that crime within society is learnt through social interactions with other people who offend. People from all walks of life offend without any explanation this could be due to the thrill of committing a crime or to impress a peer.

Although low socioeconomic status is a major contributing factor when looking at crime it doesn’t explain why the rich are offending. Within society white-collar crime goes massively unnoticed resulting in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. It is obvious within society that power inequality severely affects the type of crimes a person commits (Barak 2000). The rich are more likely to participate in crimes of a profitable nature such as corporate crime while the poor are more likely to commit a crime of an unprofitable nature like shoplifting and assault. With rich peoples crimes going unnoticed and poor individuals crimes being broadcasted it is no surprise that poor feel exploited.

Criminologists have a hard time explaining why crime rates are still increasing despite increasing living standards. The assumption is that crime either committed as a result of low self-control and character or as a direct response to deprivation and oppression. Park and Burgess (1925) argued that individuals committing crimes is the produce of social disorganisation. Criminal Opportunity and Social disorganisation in regards to low socioeconomic status can be used to describe crime. Crime opportunity theory states that criminals make rational choices and consequently choose targets that offer high reward and little risk. Social disorganisation theory was developed by Chicago school and directly links crime rates and ecological aspects; one of the main points surrounding social disorganisation theory is the idea that location matters.

Furthermore, according to the criminal opportunity perspective “economic deprivation increases criminal motivation and ability by causing social strain and disorganization” (Hannon p.366). This implies that in the event that somebody encounters high levels of poverty then the likelihood is they will resort to crime. People that struggle to provide for themselves often find themselves looking for illegitimate ways to make money for them and their family. Criminal opportunity theory states that criminal conduct is encouraged by human logic, it likewise recognises that rationality is limited for the individual committing the crime. This means that the criminal has took a calculated risk and for them it is worth it to better their short-term environment (Hannon 2002). It can be argued that low socioeconomic status can be deemed as a sort of gateway for crime with people assuring themselves that this is their only way of survival.

In America, reports from a first-of-its-kind dataset linking people who are incarcerated from 2009 to 2013 found that males born into households in the bottom 10% of earners are 20 times more likely to be in prison on a given day in their mid 30s that a child that is born into the top 10%. In addition to income, race and segregation were identified as being a huge part of the prison system. The amount of females being convicted is low in comparison to men with woman’s crimes as a whole tending to be less severe than that of men. According to and article written by The Guardian (2018), the root cause of female offending tends to be drug or alcohol problems, mental health problems, health issues and low income. The report goes on to say that instead of women in this situation being incarcerated they should instead be offered help to tackle their vulnerabilities as being jailed has severe detrimental effects on their whole life when they are released, for example, if they have children they will struggle to regain custody and they will find it difficult to find housing and employment.

Expanding on this, Sian Berry assembly member and joint author of the report states that: “Most women are convicted of theft, not paying their TV licence, debt or money related problems. They should be supported outside of prison.” This indicates that woman are more likely to commit crimes that are money related such as welfare fraud, this therefore proves that when it comes to necessities woman resort to crimes. In 2017, unpaid TV licence represented 20% of all prosecutions towards women with only 2% of all prosecutions regarding TV licence evasion involving men. 70% of approximately 15,000 defendants prosecuted were woman (The Guardian, 2018). This could indicate that, men are more likely to commit crimes out of anger for their socioeconomic status whereas woman are more likely to commit crimes out of desperation for money. Surprisingly, not only are people with low incomes committing the most crime but they are also the ones most likely to be a victim of crime.

According to Cuthbertson (2018) a person with a household income less than £10,000 per year suffers violence with injury at more than double the rate of those earning £50,000 whilst suffering nearly three times as many robberies and muggings. Interestingly, this highlights that the perpetrators of crime are much more likely to attack the poor perhaps due to fear of being caught, for example, if a person were to commit a robbery involving a larger house that is much more likely to have security systems which could identify the individual. The fear of crime amongst people from low socioeconomic backgrounds is also far higher than those from higher backgrounds, with them being two and a half and three times more likely to live in fear of burglary, rape, robbery and attacks. (Cuthbertson, 2018) This perhaps portrays that these people live in either such bad neighbourhoods that they have had it happen or seen it happen or in regards to fear of burglary and robbery not be able to afford to replenish goods that are stolen, for example, those that rely on a car and bike to get to work or take the kids to school, will not be able to replace the car immediately losing out on money and their child’s education.

To conclude, it is quite conceivable to argue that there is a link between socioeconomic status and crime. When identifying whether unemployment was an explanation for why crime is committed it was difficult to determine a result, as although unemployment did affect crimes in some situations it wasn’t an explanation in the modern day, with unemployment rates dropping and crime rates rising. However, relative deprivation and strain theory did go a long way in confirming that socioeconomic status does affect crime with people feeling like they are unfairly treated and fearing that they will never succeed they turn to crime as a last resort. Adding to this, people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are deprived of the chance to thrive and aren’t given sufficient opportunities to achieve economical success, which in time allows individuals to commit crime. Taking this into account however it must be noted that coming from a deprived area deprives individuals the chance of success. Neutralisation theory can add to this by confirming that those who commit crimes have no other choice, as there are no other options available to them.

People from low socioeconomic backgrounds tend to be targeted by police for arrests and prosecution as a pose to individuals from higher backgrounds committing white-collar crimes that go unnoticed therefore the arrest and prosecution rates for the more deprived of society are going to be higher, this does not necessarily mean that they are more deviant. Criminal Opportunity and Social disorganisation identified that a risk of some description needs to be taken in order to commit a crime, this means that people are either from a low socioeconomic background and the risk is a desperate circumstance and there are no other means of getting it or the individual is convinced they will not get caught. Females who commit fairly petty crimes who are arrested and incarcerated are making up a large number of crime statistics, when I reality a small amount of education and deterrent methods would keep those statistics to a minim. This also highlights the fact that crime statistics for low socioeconomic are getting arrested and charged for petty crimes whilst people from high socioeconomic backgrounds are more often than not getting away with more serious crimes.

Adding to this, people who are from poorer backgrounds are also more fearful of crime and are more likely to be a victim of crime than those from richer backgrounds. This suggests, that perhaps the crime statistics are so high amongst poorer areas because once they become a victim, for example, car theft or robbery these victims have to find a way of replenishing what they have lost. The final conclusion made agrees that deprived individuals are much more likely to commit crimes than affluent individuals.

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