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[FOUNTAIN]Crime and economics

Feb 24,2003
As you climb up mountains, the wind gets colder and stronger. As a nation’s economic woes deepen, people get tougher and more violent.
Criminologists say the crime rate rises with the unemployment rate and as economic inequities widen, but it is relatively insensitive to a decrease in gross domestic product. In other words, crime is related to a lack of jobs, and the gap between the incomes of the rich and the poor. Criminologists also say that a return to good economic times does not lower the crime rate back to its earlier level instantly. An economic crisis usually hurts the socially deprived, and the hurt does not heal easily. Sociologists find examples in England in the 1970’s and Korea in the 1990’s.
In the mid-1970’s, there was massive unemployment in the United Kingdom. The unemployment rate had doubled, and prices jumped 20 percent annually. The crime rate doubled and stayed there for a decade. Burglary and robbery were the main crimes during the era. Only after 1990 did crime rates decline.
The Korea Institute of Criminology said crimes of fraud here increased by 18 percent and acts of violence jumped by 13 percent in 1997 and 1998 during the financial crisis. Trade in stolen goods, assault and robbery also rose. Crime rose among the lower economic classes, while the white-collar crime rate fell by 17 percent during the two-year period. Many people in their 40s to 60s who suddenly lost their jobs during massive lay-offs during the financial crisis turned to violence.
Recent statistics for five major crimes ― murder, robbery, rape, burglary and assault ― show that even though the economic crisis is over, the crime rate is still high. The number of these horrible crimes was 330,000 in 1998 but increased to 470,000 last year.
Arson, a crime often triggered by anger, has not decreased. Arsons increased by 50 percent in 1998 over 1997 and have continued to rise since then.
Kim Dae-han, the 57-year-old arson suspect in Daegu, allegedly killed more than 130 people. He reminded Koreans of the situation they are facing. Our gross domestic product has risen a great deal compared to the financial crisis period. But maldistribution of wealth and economic inequalities have widened the gap between rich and poor. The unemployment rate is at the same level as in 1997. Has Korea successfully overcome the economic crisis at all?


by Lee Kyu-yeon

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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