It's a crime chosen by those desperate for quick cash - and it's
rising faster than a couple of hands during a stickup.
Possible explanations abound for the soaring robbery rate - 9.7
percent nationwide in the first half of 2006, according to federal
crime statistics released this week. But a lead suspect in that
troubling trend, say some criminologists, is added economic stress.
Small- to medium-size cities are the ones that saw the largest
spikes in reported violent crime, especially robbery. In some of
those, the poverty rate has also been climbing faster than the
"It strikes me that many of the cities that have experienced
increases in poverty and child poverty [in recent years] are the
very same places experiencing increases in robbery right now," says
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri.
The Rust Belt has seen large rises in poverty rates between 1999
and 2005, according to a report this month by the Brookings
Institution in Washington - and many of the region's cities turn out
to have seen sharp increases in robberies this year. In Lansing,
Mich., reported robberies rose 34 percent through June 2006, after
its poverty rate climbed 7.5 percentage points over the previous six
years. In Cleveland, the robbery rate rose 13.1 percent, and the
incidence of poverty went up 6.1 points. In Rochester, N.Y.: robbery
is up 49.8 percent, and poverty 4.1 points.
But many cities show no such correlation, meaning the root of the
problem is more complex than simple economics. In the West, for
instance, some places report flat poverty rates and more robberies.
It's too early to pinpoint the causes of the jump in violent
crime, caution Mr. Rosenfeld and others. The FBI report this week
showed violent crime overall climbing for the second straight year,
after more than a decade of declines.
A mix of factors could be contributing, say experts. Among them:
overstretched police departments, convicts reentering society, a
change in the illegal market for methamphetamine, and a baby-boom
"echo" that's entering the 15- to 25-year-old prime crime bracket.
"Economic conditions are certainly not the whole story behind
robbery," says Rosenfeld. But "when we're trying to understand year-
to-year changes and why they're occurring in certain places and not
others, then we need to focus on those factors that change
relatively rapidly as opposed to those that don't."
Rosenfeld's previous research shows that robbery rates rise when
consumer confidence measures turn negative. …