In modern US history, the linkage between poverty and crime was forged in the 1960s. Sociologists saw lawlessness as a form of social criticism, where young, impoverished Americans felt betrayed by society and institutions, giving them moral standing to break the law. The idea of crime as a rational response helped to inspire Great Society welfare programs, in which income redistribution and social justice policy took center stage in reducing crime.
Current crime statistics, conservative critics say, shows that as thinking as faulty. "There's enough evidence now presented [to prove] that there's no correlation or a very small correlation between poverty and crime statistics," says long-time conservative social critic John Leo, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
But well into last year, criminologists remained concerned that growing economic desperation in the population would lead to more crime.
"My own view is that we're looking at the possibility of property crime increases over the next year and especially as the warmer months come on us," Prof. Rosenfeld told National Public Radio in February 2009, when fears about a looming crime wave gripped many property owners.
Today, Rosenfeld says he's reexamining some of his assumptions.
Rosenfeld's list of reasons for why crime hasn't gone up – it has, in fact, decreased – include a low inflation rate that has held back what in other recessionary eras has fueled the black market in stolen goods; the absence of a spike in violence from the street drug market; and innovative policing in many cities.