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Why Are We Crying Out Loud About Crime Rates Now?


Though crime rates in the United States have been declining steadily since the 1990s, a recent Gallup Poll revealed that most Americans believe crime is increasing. This misconception stems from several factors. But local and national news shows and newspapers are surely the worst. Fear sells – and makes advertisers happy with increased exposure.

Mass media can’t get enough of it, using crime like a drug to hook audiences. High-profile cases get more attention than more impactful – but less violent – ones. White-collar crimes – like fraud – are more frequent and cost Americans hundreds of billions every year yet get far less attention.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Crime Rates vs Reality

There seems to be a disconnect between what Americans believe is happening with crime rates in the US and reality. Media bias plays with a natural tendency to react emotionally to violence, and while white-collar crime is more prevalent, it’s usually less personal.

The result is blue-collar crime rates become a kind of promotion for local news. Eyes stay glued to screens, even when frequent updates don’t show anything changing.

And politicians ride along, puffing that they’ll fight crime as if it really is getting worse.

While often undramatic, white-collar crimes are unique in their ability to victimize many people at once and cause significant monetary damage. A 2015 study estimated that white-collar crime results in up to $600 billion in financial losses each year. Another study in 2016 estimated approximately 36% of businesses have been the victim of white-collar crimes in recent years.

White-Collar vs Blue Collar Crime/Notre Dame Online

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Regardless of the underlying reasons for this discrepancy, it is clear that we need a better understanding of crime trends in the US. We need to look at the data, identify patterns emerging, and work to address potential underlying causes.

Exaggerating the prevalence of violent crime for commercial purposes does not serve public interests in any credible way.

But realistically, how do we stop the abuses of local news reporting with free speech as a defense?

Is there more white-collar or blue-collar crime?

The answer to the question of whether there are more white-collar or blue-collar crimes is not cut and dry. On one hand, white-collar crimes, such as fraud or embezzlement, tend to be committed more frequently than blue-collar crimes, such as burglary or theft.

The FBI estimates that losses from white-collar crime in the US range from $300 billion to $600 billion per year. On the other hand, blue-collar crime accounted for over 44% of all arrests made by police in 2018.

And white-collar crimes, like the massive Bernie Madoff scandal, can harm thousands even while being a single event. Blue-collar crimes can never do that.

Looked at more realistically, despite perceptions, blue-collar crimes is dropping fast. But white-collar crime rates are probably increasing because criminals know they are hard to detect and prove.

Crime Rates FAQ

1. What is the definition of crime, and how is it measured?

Crime can be defined as any violation of laws or societal norms that results in harm to individuals or societal groups. It is typically measured by looking at reported incidents. These often deemphasize white-collar and highlight blue-collar crimes.

2. Why do many people believe that crime is on the rise, when in fact it has been declining for several decades?

There are several possible explanations. Most prominently, local and mass media use violence and fear as marketing values. Human nature reacts strongly, without thought, to both, and the media can’t resist them as hot buttons.

3. What can we do to address this misconception and better understand crime in the US?

Pressure on newspapers and television stations for accuracy can help, but since neither is likely to turn off the profit spigot that crime rates provide, doing our own research may be the best choice.

Television’s nickname as “the boob tube” was well earned, back in the 1950s, but it’s worse now, if more polished.

The Roosevelt Island Daily is always free to read. But our expenses are not. Publishing has costs beyond the human ones of writing and reporting. We appreciate your generous contribution in support our work. Thank you.

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