Tag: Crime

Do Minimum Wage Increases Raise Crime Rates?

They do for younger workers and property crimes, finds a new paper by Zachary S. Fone, Joseph J. Sabia and Resul Cesur.

Back in 2016, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) claimed raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour could prevent up to half a million crimes annually. The basic idea was simple: there is good evidence criminal behavior is negatively related to wages. The CEA thought raising the minimum wage would raise the opportunity cost of low-paid workers engaging in crime.

Implicitly they were saying this crime-reduction effect would dominate any impact of job losses or hour reductions leading to more property crime, for economic reasons, or violent crime, for despair-related reasons. But this new paper suggests the CEA’s intuition on the balance of the effects was wrong, for younger workers especially.

The economists use three large crime datasets over a two-decade period to undertake regression analysis of the effect of minimum wages on different crime rates. They control for policing characteristics, crime policy, demographics, health and social welfare policies, minimum high school dropout ages and government lifestyles regulation. Doing so presents robust evidence that minimum wage hikes do not reduce crime. In fact, they increase property crime arrests among 16-24 year olds – the group for whom the minimum wage is most likely to bite.

Their regressions find little evidence minimum wage hikes affect violent or drug crime, or net crime among older individuals. But the impact on young people is positive and strongest when the minimum wage hikes are larger. Digging deeper, they find that the property crimes spike is driven larcenies rather than burglaries, motor vehicle theft or arson. The results are strongest for counties with populations over 100,000 and are likely driven by the traditional labor demand impact of minimum wage hikes (fewer jobs or reduced hours).

The results they obtain of the crime responsiveness to minimum wage hikes implies that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage between 1998 and 2016 led to nearly 80,000 additional property crimes committed by 16-to-24 year olds. This would imply that implementing the $15 per hour Raise The Wage Act today could generate another 410,000 property crimes.

Illegal Immigrants and Crime – Assessing the Evidence

Whether illegal immigrants bring a significant amount of crime to the United States is one of the most important questions to answer in the debate over immigration policy.  President Trump also seems to think so as he launched his campaign in 2015 with the now infamous quote: “[Mexican illegal immigrants] are bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”  From executive orders to major talking points to the President’s speeches, which Vox reporter Dara Lind has aptly described as “immigrants are coming over the border to kill you,” Trump is interested in this important topic.  

It is difficult to know whether illegal immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans are.  All immigrants have a lower criminal incarceration rate and there are lower crime rates in the neighborhoods where they live, according to the near-unanimous findings of the peer-reviewed evidence.  Since 1911, large nationwide federal immigration commissions have asked whether immigrants are more crime-prone than native-born Americans and each one of them answered no, even when the rest of their reports unjustifiably blamed immigrants for virtually every problem in the United States.  From the 1911 Immigration Commission, also known as the Dillingham Commission, to the 1931 Wickersham Commission, and 1994’s Barbara Jordan Commission, each has reported that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. 

That research combines legal and illegal immigrants to calculate a crime rate for all immigrants, but the modern debate is over the crime rates of illegal immigrants.  Most people seem to accept that legal immigrants have lower crime rates than natives.  Measuring illegal immigrant crime rates is challenging for several reasons.  First, the American Community Survey does not ask which inmates in adult correctional facilities are illegal immigrants.  Second, federal data on the number of illegal immigrants incarcerated on the state and local level is recorded through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which is a combination of stocks and flows that is incomparable to any other measure of inmates.  Third, 49 states do not record the immigration statuses of those in prison or convicted.  Until recently, these data limitations allowed pundits to say anything about illegal immigrant crime without fear of being fact-checked. 

Cato scholars have since published numerous Immigration Research and Policy Briefs to shed light on this topic.  Michelangelo Landgrave, a doctoral student in political science at the University of California, Riverside, and I released a paper today that estimates that illegal immigrant incarceration rates are about half those of native-born Americans in 2017.  In the same year, legal immigrant incarceration rates are then again half those of illegal immigrants.  Those results are similar to what Landgrave and I published for the years 2014 and 2016.  We estimated illegal immigrant incarceration rates by using the same residual method that demographers use to estimate the number of illegal immigrants in the United States, only we also applied that method to the prison population.  We used the same method to also find that the incarceration rate for young illegal immigrants brought here as children and theoretically eligible for deferred action is slightly below those of native-born Americans.

The second strand of research from Cato looks at criminal conviction rates by immigration status in the state of Texas.  Unlike every other state, Texas keeps track of the immigration statuses of convicted criminals and the crimes that they committed.  Texas is a wonderful state to study because it borders Mexico, has a large illegal immigrant population, is a politically conservative state governed by Republicans, had no jurisdictions that limited its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in 2015, and it has a law and order reputation for strictly enforcing criminal laws.  If anything, Texas is more serious about enforcing laws against illegal immigrant criminals than other states.  But even here, illegal immigrant conviction rates are about half those of native-born Americans – without any controls for age, education, ethnicity, or any other characteristic.  The illegal immigrant conviction rates for homicide, larceny, and sex crimes are also below those of native-born Americans.  The criminal conviction rates for legal immigrants are the lowest of all.

El Paso Homicides Spiked After Border Fence Was Completed; The Fence Didn’t Cause It

At a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, President Trump again claimed that that city had a high crime rate before a fence was built between it and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.  Many people have pointed out that El Paso has long been a more peaceful city than others, before and after the border fence was built.  This post adds just a few more visuals to hammer home the point made by others and an odd anomaly in homicides.

I constructed the figures using local police department crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database, focusing on departments that policed populations of between 500,000 to 1 million.  That population size was appropriate as El Paso’s population was 683,577 in 2017.  The local police departments variable identifies city police departments in the UCR, but it also includes several large urbanized counties in Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  In total, 41 different cities and counties met the criteria, including El Paso.  I further relied on the FBI population estimates to calculate the crime rates.  Lastly, I set the base year of 2000 at 100, and compared the crime rates in El Paso over time with the average crime rates across the other 40 other jurisdictions.

These charts convinced me that I did not need to run any regressions nor was the story significantly than that which was already reported, with one exception.  First, the consistent findings.  Figure 1 shows the overall crime rate in El Paso versus the other 40 jurisdictions.  The gray shaded area is when the El Paso border fence was under construction.  Looks like crime continued to decline in El Paso and in the other cities after the wall was built at about the same rate as it declined prior the government’s construction of a border fence there. 

 

Figure 1: All Crime

 

Figure 2 shows the violent crime rates in El Paso relative to the other jurisdictions, with more of a pre-fence dip in violent crime in El Paso relative to other cities, followed with a bit of a rise before construction began.  The construction of the border fence there looks uneventful.  Figure 3 shows property crime rates and it looks even less impressive than the first two figures.

 

Figure 2: Violent Crime

 

Figure 3: Property Crime

 

Figure 4 shows the homicide rate in El Paso versus the 40 comparison cities – and it spiked more than a year after the government constructed the fence between El Paso and Mexico.  The homicide rate in El Paso was 2.8 per 100,000 in 2008 when fence construction began, fell to 1.9 in 2009 when fence construction, fell again to 0.8 in 2010, spiked to 2.4 in 2011, and climbed again to 3.4 in 2012 before coming back down.  The big decline happened right after the fence was built, but the huge spike also occurred when the fence was fully constructed.  Without a lot more econometrics, I’m unable to even provide hypotheses to explain the crash and spike in homicides in El Paso.  Illegal immigration is probably not a factor as the number of apprehensions in El Paso crashed, partly because of the border fence and partly because of the end of mass illegal Mexican immigration.  Homicide rates in San Diego and Tucson, two other border cities, do not show a similar pattern. 

 

Figure 4: Homicide

 

Regardless of the potential explanations for the spike in homicides shortly after the government completed the border fence in El Paso, President Trump’s story is even less true than has been reported by others – at least according to the empirical standards of this public debate.  Please don’t take this post or what I wrote here as arguing that the border fence in El Paso caused the spike in homicides, as I see no evidence to support that claim and I have not carried out nearly enough statistical work on this issue to confidently state that.  

Crime Along the Mexican Border Is Lower Than in the Rest of the Country

Crime along the border and national security will be major themes in President Trump’s upcoming address where he will likely make the case for declaring a national emergency to build his wall.  Shocking images and anecdotes of crime along the border fuel this narrative, but rarely are facts deployed to make the case.  We’ve addressed the terrorism and crime arguments frequently, but only rarely touch on border crime.  Border counties have far less crime per capita than American counties that are not along the border. 

If the entire United States in 2017 had crime rates identical to those in counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, there would have been 5,720 fewer homicides, 159,036 fewer property crimes, and 99,205 fewer violent crimes across the entire country.  If the entire United States had crime rates as low as those along the border in 2017, then the number of homicides would have been 33.8 percent lower, property crimes would have been 2.1 percent lower, and violent crimes would have dropped 8 percent.

Table 1

Crime Rates by Counties in 2017, per 100,000

  Violent Crime Rate Property Crime Rate Homicide Rate
Border counties 347.8 2,207.1 3.4
Non-border counties 378.6 2,256.4 5.2
United States 377.8 2,255.2 5.1

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports 2017.

The numbers in Table 1 come from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2017 that we obtained via a special request from the FBI.  The crime rates are organized by county, with all crimes reported to sub-county agencies added up using county codes from the FBI’s 2012 Law Enforcement Agency Identifiers Crosswalk.  The population figures also come from the FBI and are based on the intercensal reports obtained by the FBI from the Census Bureau.  The 23 border counties are lumped together as one and compared to the non-border counties. The numbers for the entire United States are in the last row. 

Sheriff Ronny Dodson of Brewster County Texas said, “A lot of politicians are running on securing the border.  One’s got a six point plan, one’s got a nine point plan. They’re throwing tons of money at this border. I wish they’d just shut up about it.”  Dodson went on to say, “I think they’re [politicians] just throwing money at the border for nothing. I think people on the interior see all these shows about the border where there’s violence.” 

Although Dodson’s comment is just rhetoric, there is a lot more empirical support for his claims than there is for those who claim that there is a border crime crisis.

Illegal Immigrant Conviction Rates Are Low, Even When Factoring in Recidivism

 Over the last two years, Cato has published three Immigration Research and Policy Briefs on illegal immigrant criminality.  In each one, we found that illegal immigrants have lower criminal conviction rates in the state of Texas and lower nationwide incarceration rates relative to native-born Americans.  Although nobody has criticized our methods or the data, we answer other criticisms that arise.

The best recent criticism is that illegal immigrant conviction rates are low because they are deported after they serve their sentences, which reduces their recidivism rates relative to native-born Americans who cannot be deported after being released from prison.  Thus, the illegal immigrant incarceration or conviction rates are lower than those of native-born Americans because it is more difficult for them to recidivate as they would have to enter the country illegally again to do so.  This has been a difficult criticism to address as data limitations are severe, but we attempted to do so after making some assumptions.  We focused on comparing first-time criminal conviction rates.

We estimate that native-born Texans had a first-time criminal conviction rate of 683 per 100,000 natives in 2016.  In the same year, we estimate that illegal immigrants had a first-time criminal conviction rate of 462 per 100,000 illegal immigrants – 32 percent below that of native-born Americans.  Thus, about 36 percent of the gap that we observed in criminal conviction rates between illegal immigrants and native-born Americans can be explained by lower illegal immigrant recidivism that is likely due to their deportation. 

This question could have been easily resolved by comparing the immigration statuses of first-time offenders.  Of course, such data do not exist.  Regardless, this is still an important question even if our estimate results from a back of the envelope estimate.  You can judge for yourself how we came to this estimate.  This is how we did it. 

First, we used the Arizona state prison data from 2016 for those admitted to state prison that year.  Of U.S. citizens sent to prison that year, 58 percent had previously been to prison at some point since 1984.  The subpopulation of deportable non-citizens, which includes illegal immigrants but is not limited to them, had a recidivism rate of 47 percent – below those of U.S. citizens, but not that much below. 

The Government Doesn’t Understand Its Own Immigration and Crime Data

On March 6, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13780.  The order was mostly concerned with reducing the number of immigrants and travelers from certain countries that his administration thought could pose a terror risk.  One portion of that Executive Order called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate the number of terrorist threats and, little noticed at the time, “information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including so-called ‘honor killings,’ in the United States by foreign nationals.” 

The DOJ-DHS released their report in January 2018 and almost everybody focused on the terrorism portion – including myself and my colleagues here at Cato.  However, thanks to a brilliant lawsuit that uncovered how shoddy the report was, it is now clear that it made an absolutely false statement about the number of foreign-born people arrested for sex offenses.  The DOJ-DHS report says:

Regarding sex offenses, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2011 produced an estimate regarding the population of criminal aliens incarcerated in state prisons and local jails from fiscal years 2003 through 2009. In that report, GAO estimated that over that period, aliens were convicted for 69,929 sex offenses—which, although not explicitly stated in the report, in most instances constitutes gender-based violence against women.

The DOJ-DHS authors of the report made two errors that others have made in interpreting that exact GAO report, many of whom I’ve criticized

First, 69,929 is the number of arrests for sex offenses where the arrestees were criminal aliens, not the number of sex offenses for which criminal aliens were convicted as the DOJ-DHSclaimed.

Second, those arrests occurred from 1955 through 2010, not from 2003 through 2009.

At least the DOJ-DHS have admitted they misinterpreted the GAO report – further vindication that Peter Kirsanow made numerous errors when he was given three full minutes to monologue on it last August on the Tucker Carlson Show.  Kirsanow wouldn’t appear with me on the show after that segment to debate me – I’ll let you guess the reason why.

The biggest problem here isn’t that the DOJ-DHS authors of that report didn’t read the fine print, although that is worrying, or that they likely let their political bias cloud their research findings.  The biggest problem here is that the GAO report misleads more than it illuminates and provides a legitimate looking citation for erroneous claims that are difficult to check.  The GAO is a more professional and less political department than the DOJ or DHS, at least when it comes to investigating and publishing the results of empirical research.  The GAO should retract the report and the later 2018 version that have both been so misinterpreted, rewrite them so that they are crystal clear, re-release them with a list of corrections from the previous editions, and include an FAQ section with answers.   If current government bureaucrats at the DOJ and DHS as well as former bureaucrats like Peter Kirsanow have trouble understanding the GAO report, then clearly the GAO needs to fix the problem and try to prevent it from occurring in the future.  Otherwise, what is the point of the GAO?

 

The Migrant Caravan Probably Doesn’t Contain Many Criminals

One concern about the caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the U.S. border is that it may contain criminals. Although we don’t know the identities or criminal histories of the actual people in the caravan, we can get an indication by looking at estimates of the incarceration rates of immigrants in the United States who come from the Central American countries where the caravan originated.

Hondurans are likely the largest contingent in the caravan. The Honduran incarceration rate in the United States was 1,130 per 100,000 Hondurans in 2016 (Figure 1). The incarceration rate of native-born Americans is about 25 percent higher than for those born in Honduras at 1,498 per 100,000 natives. In 2016, the incarceration rate for immigrants from all of Mexico and Central America is about 35 percent below that of native-born Americans. 

Figure 1: Incarceration Rate by Nationality of Birth Per 100,000, Ages 18-54, 2016

Figure 1 controls for the size of the population to create a meaningful comparison of incarceration rates between the national-origin groups. For instance, the incarceration rate for American natives is 1,498 per 100,000 American natives and the Mexican incarceration rate is 996 per 100,000 Mexican-born residents in the United States. The incarceration rate for all immigrants from Mexico and Central America was 970 per 100,000 immigrants from that part of the world.    

The data for the estimates in this blog come from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS). These are estimates from the group quarters population for those aged 18-54. Figure 1 is an estimate because not all inmates in group quarters are in correctional facilities. Most inmates in the public-use microdata version of the ACS are in correctional facilities, but the data also include those in mental health and elderly care institutions and in institutions for people with disabilities. As a result, we narrowed the age range to 18-54 to exclude most of those in mental health and retirement facilities. 

Commenting on the likely criminality of members in the migrant caravan based on the incarceration rates of their co-nationals in the United States is not fully satisfying. People in the migrant caravan could be more crime-prone than their fellow countrymen in the United States, for instance. However, the incarceration rates of their fellow countrymen in the United States at least provide some evidence to cut through the political statements made without any evidence.    

Most of the members of the caravan will likely seek asylum in the United States while the others will try to enter unlawfully. The government will vet the asylum-seekers to identify serious criminals and national security threats. However, it is impossible to vet those who enter as illegal immigrants – which is one of the better arguments for allowing them to enter legally as they would then be subject to vetting.

Special thanks to Michelangelo Landgrave from crunching many of the numbers for this post.

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