Crime and Unemployment Insurance in the Great Recession

45 Pages Posted: 17 May 2017

Date Written: April 23, 2017


Crime fell sharply in the United States during the Great Recession, at a time of deep economic decline. This was a puzzle: crime is expected to rise, not fall, when unemployment rises. Using a novel identification strategy, I show that unemployment insurance (UI) benefit extensions can account for part of the puzzle, explaining why crime did not rise. The higher propensity to commit crime associated with higher joblessness was mitigated by the fact that UI was more generous, replacing a larger portion of pre-unemployment income for a longer time. I use exogenous variation provided by different state-level UI extension rules in the length of benefits to identify the impact of unemployment benefits on crime. I estimate that in places with an additional $1,000 rise in UI per unemployed person crime would have been 1.5% higher were it not for the extensions. UI extensions can account up to half of the reason why crime did not rise.

Keywords: Crime; Unemployment Insurance; Great Recession

JEL Classification: K42, H00, J65

Suggested Citation

Petroulakis, Filippos, Crime and Unemployment Insurance in the Great Recession (April 23, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Filippos Petroulakis (Contact Author)

European Central Bank (ECB) ( email )

Sonnemannstrasse 22
Frankfurt am Main, 60314


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