Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Labour-Market Problems and Crime in the Transition from School to Work

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Labour-Market Problems and Crime in the Transition from School to Work

Article excerpt

A number of interrelated changes in the economy and labour market of advanced capitalist societies have been underway for some time (Drache and Gertler, 1991). Evidence of these changes can be found in the growth of part-time, part-year and temporary work, as well as an increasingly segmented labour market containing more low wage jobs in the lower tier service sector (Duffy and Pupo, 1992; Economic Council of Canada, 1990; Krahn, 1992; Krahn and Lowe, 1993; Myles, 1988). Additional evidence of such changes is the emergence of structural unemployment - a persistent, deeply entrenched, possibly permanent high rate of unemployment where the number of jobless far exceeds the total number of available jobs (Cohen, 1991; Gera, 1991; Krahn and Lowe, 1993; Picot and Wannell, 1988). Youth are particularly vulnerable to these changes since there are fewer entry-level positions, particularly for the less skilled, as minimum qualifications are raised, and new job creation tends to occur in the area of low paying, part-time, service jobs that do not lead to a meaningful career (Myles et al., 1988). Young people have historically borne a disproportionate share of unemployment and the impact of these recent changes is already apparent in the unemployment rate of 15.6% for youth aged 15-24 for 1995, compared to the general rate of 9.5% (Statistics Canada, 1996).

With these structural changes in the economy and the rise in youth unemployment, there has been a growing concern about their consequences for youth and for society (Furnham, 1985; OECD, 1980; Tanner et al., 1984). A greater proportion of young people today face the prospect of life-long economic marginality and diminished expectations (Neice, 1987) which could inhibit the development of conscientious work habits and a strong work ethic, transforming many into a permanent class of unemployables (Deaton, 1983). The transition from adolescence to adulthood and from school to work may be more difficult to achieve for increasing numbers of youth and this may increase their alienation from mainstream society (Brake, 1985).

Given this economic context, it is not surprising that criminologists have renewed their research interest in the possible link between unemployment and crime (Box, 1987; Chiricos, 1987; Council of Europe, 1985; Wilson and Cook, 1985). Although the hypothesis that unemployment is a cause of crime is theoretically credible, its empirical status is controversial (Cantor and Land, 1985; Chiricos, 1987; Currie, 1985; Wilson and Herrnstein, 1985). But most of this research has focused upon the aggregate-level relationship, while much of the theory linking economic factors to crime is based upon arguments concerning how individuals behave (Box, 1987; Long and Witte, 1981). Research at the individual level is required to avoid the ecological fallacy of assuming that aggregate relationships must also apply to individuals. Only a relatively small number of studies have examined the impact of labour-market problems on crime by young people in the process of transition from school and adolescence to work and adulthood. Given the dynamic nature of the transition process, panel studies that survey the same individuals at several time-points are the most effective research design (Anisef et al., 1986; Mason, 1985). But with few exceptions, the longitudinal research examining youth labour-market problems and crime is based upon data sets collected in an earlier era under quite different economic circumstances than those experienced recently, which may limit the applicability of the findings to periods of economic expansion (Sampson and Laub, 1990). Furthermore, none of these studies has examined the labour-market perceptions and attitudes of young people in the midst of transition and, in particular, how these subjective beliefs may interact with the labour-market experiences of youth to affect their criminal behaviour. Yet how youth perceive and interpret their labour-market situation may be crucial in shaping their response to it (Box, 1987; Wright, 1981). …

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