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Job Layoffs Linked to More Violence, Property Crime

Losing a job can be detrimental to the individual, but a new study shows that the negative effects are not just felt by the displaced worker and his or her family. The findings, published in the journal Labour Economics, reveal that involuntary job loss also causes a dramatic increase in criminal behavior.

The study is one of the first to establish a causal link between individual job loss and subsequent criminal activity.

“Layoffs lead to an increase of criminal charges against displaced workers, while also decreasing their future earnings and full-time opportunities,” said Dr. Mark Votruba, co-author of the study and an associate professor of economics in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

One of the primary reasons appears to be the disruptive effect of job loss on daily schedules. For both violent crimes and drug/alcohol-related crimes, the charge rates increased much more on weekdays than on weekends.

“The old adage that idle hands are the devil’s workshop appears to have some truth to it,” said Votruba. “This unfortunate link (to weekday crimes) highlights the importance of psychological factors such as mental distress, self-control, financial concerns and frustration in determining counterproductive behavior.”

The research utilized data of more than 1 million laid-off Norwegian workers, ages 18 to 40, of which nearly 84,000 experienced an involuntary job loss over the period of analysis. Such records linking criminal and employment activity are not available in the U.S.

According to the study, workers who were fired through no fault of their own experienced:

  • a 60% jump in property crimes charges in the year after a downsizing;
  • a decrease in earnings by 10 to 15% in the immediate years following displacement;
  • a substantial increase in the likelihood of remaining unemployed or working less than full-time;
  • an overall 20% increase in criminal-charge rates in the year after a layoff;
  • and a dramatic increase in non-property crimes — violent and serious traffic offenses, as well as drug/alcohol-related acts — committed on weekdays.

“The criminal response is not just about workers’ replacing lost income. These results suggest other important factors are at work, including the psychological effects of job loss,” said Votruba.

Whether displaced workers in the U.S. show a similar crime response to those in Norway is unclear, though there is reason to believe the effects would be stronger in the U.S., the researchers said.

“Norway has a strong social safety net that makes job loss less painful there than in the U.S. Both the income and psychological effects of job loss are likely more severe in the U.S.,” said Votruba, a research associate at Statistics Norway during the study.

The authors believe their findings can help policymakers better understand the link between job loss and crime, and design policy interventions that reduce the cost that displacement puts on individuals and society.

“The U.S. is probably never going to provide as much income support to displaced workers, but programs designed to discourage alcohol and drug abuse among displaced young men or keep them engaged in productivity activities while unemployed could be effective policy tools for reducing crime,” said Votruba.

For the study, the researchers followed men for more than 15 years during the 1990’s and 2000’s; there was not enough crime among women to include in the study.

The study’s co-authors were Mari Rege, of the University of Stavanger; Torbjørn Skardhamar, of the University of Oslo; and Kjetil Telle, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Source: Case Western Reserve University


Job Layoffs Linked to More Violence, Property Crime

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Job Layoffs Linked to More Violence, Property Crime. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Mar 2020 (Originally: 15 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Mar 2020
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