Don Weatherburn What Causes Crime Essay

Youth Unemployment and Crime in Australia

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The causes and consequences of youth unemployment in Australia has been of particular concern within both government and private sectors for many years. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 10.9% of the total 15-24 age population was unemployed in September, 1995. This figure climbed to 15.3% in September, 2003. This evidence gives cause to the growing concern surrounding the increase in youth unemployment. For sizeable numbers of youth, its not going to get any easier to find work as they move into their twenties or complete education. Opinions such as those found in the Smith Family Youth Unemployment Report (2003) hypothesise that juvenile crime is directly connected to the high rates of youth unemployment in Australia. In this essay, I would firstly like to ask exactly what is known about both the rates of juvenile crime and youth unemployment in Australia, and is there a direct link between the two? The suggested connection between a soaring crime rate and youth unemployment influences the way in which our society is governed and developed, making it imperative that we endeavor to try and understand and/or eliminate some of these suggestions. I will begin my essay by defining what I mean by youth unemployment and juvenile crime, and explore the possible challenges upon measuring both of these things. Comparing statistics gathered from both the ABS and other government recognized reports on unemployment, and information from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), I will attempt to weigh up the claim that the crime rate has risen in unison with the unemployment rate. I will also assess claims made by Weatherburn (2001) that youth unemployment causes crime, sifting through the truths and fallacies.

Opinions such as those found in the Smith Family Youth Unemployment Report (2003) which hypothesize that juvenile crime is directly connected to the high rates of youth unemployment in Australia cannot be neither accepted nor critiqued until there is a clear understanding of what the terms “Youth Unemployment” and “Juvenile Crime” mean in the context of this essay. In this essay youth unemployment is generally taken to include the entire 15-24 age cohort – not just 15-19 year old teenagers – who are no longer at school or university and who are without a job. I have chosen to include 20-24 year olds under the banner of “Youth”, as it gives a fairer picture of the performance of all young people in the labor market and takes into account the pattern of employment both during and after leaving school or university.

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The word juvenile is used to describe the actions of a person who is “not fully grown or developed” (, and is marked by immaturity and childishness. Crime is generally taken to include all acts which are deemed against the law of the state, and are therefore illegal. The term “Juvenile Crime” is usually taken to encompass juvenile delinquency. Explaining crime and delinquency is a complex task. A multitude of factors exist that contribute to the understanding of what leads someone to engage in delinquent behavior. Just as the casual factors of juvenile delinquency and crime are diverse and numerous, so are their definitions. Hartley (1985) and other sociologists state, “Sociologists define deviance as any behavior that members of a social group define as violating their norms. This concept applies both to criminal acts of deviance and non-criminal acts that members of a group view as unethical, immoral, peculiar, sick, or otherwise outside the bounds of respectability.”

In order to look discuss whether or not youth unemployment causes or has any correlation to the high crime rate in Australia, it is important to have a clear understanding of the patterns of youth unemployment. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in September 1995 10.9% of the total 15-24 age population was unemployed (or 15.1% of the 15-24 year old labour force). Unemployment as a proportion of the population among 20-24 year olds was 9.7% (or 11.6% of the 20-24 year old labour force) and among teenagers was 12.2% (or 20.7% of the teenage labour force). For considerable numbers of young people it is not getting any easier to find work as they move into their twenties or complete education. According to a study undertaken in 1995 by Wooden (1999) young people who just worked part-time represented 10% of the total 20-24 age group compared to 5.7% of teenagers. Altogether 215,000 young people were working part-time. Two-thirds of those working part-time wanted to work longer hours but couldn¹t find the work. So the total number unemployed or just working part-time equals 507,000 young people or 18.8% of the total 15-24 population or 26.2% of the 15-24 age labour force. It is this group as a whole that is at risk of being relegated to the margins of the labour force. A further 163,000 young people had already dropped out of the labour force, a significant number of them discouraged by their attempt to find work. It is also worth looking at where high rates of youth unemployment are concentrated. It is highest in regional centres and is disproportionately located in the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and outlying states such as South Australia. For example, in July 1997 52% of the young unemployed in New South Wales were located in just four regions of outer Western Sydney, the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra and the north coast areas around the Richmond and Tweed rivers (Wooden: 1999). In South Australia youth unemployment in Adelaide¹s northern an southern suburbs accounted for 56% of the state’s total youth unemployment while in Tasmania nearly half of all the unemployed were concentrated in Hobart.

According to World Bank’s “The Global Crisis of Youth Unemployment”, male and females aged between 15 and 24 years account for 41 per cent of the world’s unemployed, an estimated 74 million people. Compared to other nations, Australia’s youth unemployment rates are high. By 1993 Australia had the fifth highest youth unemployment rate among thirteen OECD countries,(ABS) and ten years later Australia still fares poorly. As the OECD (Employment Outlook 2003, p. 26) stated, ‘teenage unemployment and early school leaving rates in Australia exceed the area-wide average. Moreover, the employment disadvantage of poorly qualified school leavers, compared to their better educated counterparts, is somewhat above the OECD average’. According to ABS trend statistics, in September of 2003 21.6 per cent of 15-19 year olds in Australia were unemployed. Female teenagers (23.3 per cent) had a higher unemployment rate than their male counterparts (20.6 per cent). This is in stark contrast to the 5.9 per cent of unemployed adults. Thus in September teenagers were over two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than adults. The number of unemployed teenagers may be even higher, if the 11.5 per cent of 15-19 year olds who are not in the labour force are taken into consideration. Alarmingly, 15.3 per cent of all Australian teenagers are neither employed full-time, nor attending an educational institution (ABS Labour Force Australia Study; 2003). Although the adult unemployment rate has almost halved since 1993, the percentage of teenagers in these ‘marginal activities’ (not in full-time employment or study) has persisted over the last ten years (Strathdee and Hughes, 2002: 34), and some groups of the population have even higher proportions of teenagers in ‘marginal activities’. While 15.3 per cent of all teenagers are not in full-time employment or in full-time education, (ABS Labour Force Australia Study; 2003) 45 per cent of Indigenous teenagers are in the same situation. Teenagers living in certain states are also less likely to be working or studying full-time – in the Northern Territory this is the case for 32.2 per cent of teenagers, 18.4 per cent in Western Australia, 18.1 in Queensland and 17.8 per cent in South Australia (Dusseldorp Skills Forum, 2003: 4).

Australian and international studies have shown interplay between youth unemployment and
Crime (Weatherburn, 2001). Two links between unemployment and crime are popularly supposed. One is the belief that boredom and other situational factors of unemployment increase opportunity for, and thus likelihood of, criminal activity. Another common view holds that if needs and wants cannot be sufficiently and legitimately met by employment, then individuals will seek illegitimate ways to meet these. Thus wages from employment are used to provide food, clothing, shelter and other goods and services, but unemployment and a consequent lack of wages by which to meet these needs may lead to the attractiveness of criminal activity. These common views are essentially in concurrence with much of the scholarly work (Weatherburn, 2001). It would be simplistic and overly reductive to argue that unemployment causes crime in a direct straightforward, without-exception fashion. Unemployment may be one influence on an individual’s likelihood of undertaking criminal activity. And, as with other aspects of disadvantage, youth unemployment may combine with other disadvantaging factors (such as socioeconomic disadvantage, region, duration of unemployment, prior criminal behavior, early school leaving, weak links to the labour market and Indigenousness) to result in criminal activity (Weatherburn, 2001).

According to the ABS, ‘Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics’, long-term unemployment is an antecedent of crime. Scholars Chapman, Weatherburn, Kapuscinski, Chilvers and Roussel have highlighted in their report ‘Unemployment Duration, Schooling and
Property Crime’ (2002), at least two influences regarding intersections between long-term unemployment and crime. Firstly, unemployment duration is inversely linked to labour market attractiveness. As Chapman et al, drawing on Rummery 1989, rationalize, ‘the longer the period of joblessness…the greater the atrophy in human capital’ (2002: 3). Therefore, given the link between human capital and success in the labour market, the longer a person is unemployed the less likely they are to find employment. As the likelihood of employment decreases the more the likelihood of ‘illegitimate earning activity’ increases (Chapman et al 2002: 3). Secondly, long-term unemployment may affect an individual’s attitude regarding future employment opportunities. The ‘Factors Influencing Criminal Offending’ report issued by the Crime Prevention Division of NSW found that a poor expectation of future employment prospects combined with a period of unemployment is more likely to result in criminal activity than the combination of unemployment with more positive expectation of future employment. As Chapman et al. (2002: 4) explain, ‘individuals who do not expect to remain unemployed for long are much less likely to engage in crime’.

For many unemployed youth, the above characteristics may be coupled with the first significant time in their life course where they are not subject to supervision and authority. They also may not have an acceptable place to be, in the way that school and the tertiary sector provide ‘place’ and ‘space’. Unemployed youth therefore negotiate a confluence of several challenging factors; they cannot find employment and have little prospect and expectation of doing so. They are without a significant degree of formal supervision and authority and without ‘place’ and occupation. Unemployed youth often have little, or no, experience in the labour market. While these challenges confront unemployed people of all ages, they are particularly adverse, and may be amplified, for youth who face them with only limited experience and maturity. When considering crime and unemployment ‘immaturity’ must be taken into account.

Youth unemployment is a major issue for the government, policy makers and planners. Although unemployment is a social problem, youth unemployment is of particular concern because of the effect it can have on a person's future. Youth is an important time for choosing a career, gaining and developing skills, establishing an identity and obtaining independence. As a nation, youth unemployment accounts for a large amount of expenditure. The cost of youth unemployment in regard to unemployment benefits and the cost of countering and treating crime and mental and physical health problems are very difficult to quantify. In terms of early school leaving, however, some figures have been quantified. The Dusseldorp Skills Forum estimate that ‘the cost to individuals, governments and the rest of society as a result of the disadvantages of higher unemployment, lower incomes and other costs arising from early school leaving in Australia is estimated at $2.6 billion every year’ (Spierings, 2001: 7-8). Applied Economics estimated that if half of all early school leavers over a five year period are provided with a Year 12 or equivalent education, unemployment benefits would be reduced by approximately $80 million per annum.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Labour Force Australia, ABS, September 2003, pp. 1, 6, 9-10, 13.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), ‘Work –Unemployment: Youth Unemployment’, Australian Social Trends 1995, Australia

Crime Prevention Division, ‘Factors Influencing Criminal Offending’, Juvenile Crime in New South Wales Report, Chapter 4,
Accessed on 6/6/2005

Dusseldorp Skills Forum, How Young People are Faring: Key Indicators 2003, Dusseldorp Skills Forum, Sydney, August 2003, p. 4

OECD, Employment Outlook 2003, in Dusseldorp Skills Forum, How Young People are Faring: Key Indicators 2003, Dusseldorp Skills Forum, Sydney, August 2003, p. 26

Online Research Engine
Accessed on 7/5/2005

Strathdee, R and Hughes, D ‘Changes in Young Peoples’ Social Networks and Welfare Reform in Australia’, The Drawing Board: An Australian Review of Public Affairs, vol. 3, no. 1, July 2002, p. 34.

Spierings, J ‘Regional and local government initiatives to support youth pathways: lessons from innovative communities’, ACER Understanding Youth Pathways Conference, Melbourne, October 2001.

Weatherburn, D ‘The impact of unemployment on crime’ in Saunders, P and Taylor, R (eds), (2001) The Price of Prosperity, pp226-248 Sydney: University of New
South Wales Press.

Weatherburn D. (2001), What causes crime? (Crime and Justice Bulletin B54) at URL:
Accessed on 5/6/2005

World Bank, ‘The Global Crisis of Youth Unemployment’,
Accessed on 6/6/2005


Hartley, R. (1985) What Price Independence? Youth Affairs Council of Victoria Inc. Fitzroy

Poole, M.E. (1983) Youth: Expectations and Transitions, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Melbourne

Wooden, M. (1999) Impediments to the Employment of Young People, NCVER, Australia

In politics, law and order refers to demands for a strict criminal justice system, especially in relation to violent and property crime, through stricter criminal penalties. These penalties may include longer terms of imprisonment, mandatory sentencing, three-strikes laws, and in some countries, capital punishment.

Supporters of "law and order" argue that incarceration is the most effective means of crime prevention. Opponents of law and order argue that a system of harsh criminal punishment is ultimately ineffective because it does not address underlying or systemic causes of crime.

Political issue in the United States[edit]

"Law and order" became a powerful conservative theme in the U.S. in the 1960s. The leading proponents in the late 1960s were Republicans Ronald Reagan (as governor of California) and Richard Nixon (as presidential candidate in 1968). They used it to dissolve a liberal consensus about crime that involved federal court decisions and a pushback against illegal drugs and violent gang activity. White ethnics in northern cities turned against the Democratic party, blaming it for being soft on crime and rioters.[1]

The political demand for "law and order" was made by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the 1780s and 1790s.[2][3] It was a political slogan in Kentucky around 1900 after the assassination of Governor William Goebel.[4] The term was used by Barry Goldwater in his run for president in 1964.

Liberals, Flamm (2005) argues, were unable to craft a compelling message for anxious voters. Instead, liberals either ignored the crime crisis, claimed that law and order was a racist ruse, or maintained that social programs would solve the "root causes" of civil disorder, which by 1968 seemed increasingly unlikely and contributed to a loss of faith in the ability of the government to do what it was sworn to do—protect personal security and private property. Conservatives rejected the liberal notions. "How long are we going to abdicate law and order," House GOP leader Gerald Ford demanded in 1966, "in favor of a soft social theory that the man who heaves a brick through your window or tosses a firebomb into your car is simply the misunderstood and underprivileged product of a broken home?"

Flamm (2005) documents how conservatives constructed a persuasive message that argued that the Civil Rights Movement had contributed to racial unrest and Johnson's Great Society had rewarded rather than punished the perpetrators of violence. Conservatives demanded that the national government should promote respect for law and order and contempt for those who violated it, regardless of cause.

After Reagan took office in 1981 and started appointing tough conservative judges, the law became a weapon against crime. The number of prisoners tripled from 500,000 in 1980 to 1.5 million in 1994. Conservatives at the state level built many more prisons and convicts served much longer terms, with less parole. By the time they were released they were much older and thus much less violent.[5]


Two developments were involved.


Although the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 forbade all discrimination on the basis of race, in 1965 police brutality towards a Black man during a traffic stop resulted in a major riot by among Blacks in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles Watts riots#Aftermath, the government's response to which is considered by many to have been a failure. [1]. Indeed, every summer from 1964 through 1970 was a "long hot summer", though 1967 is particularly called that since 159 riots occurred that year Long, hot summer of 1967.[6][7][8][9] Additionally, after the April 4, 1968 murder of Martin Luther King, a new wave of riots broke out in over 100 cities, with nights of violence against police and looting and burning of local white-owned businesses. The inner neighborhoods of many major cities, such as Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and New York, were burned out. National Guard and Army troops were called out. At one point machine gun units were stationed on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington to prevent rioters from burning it down.


Secondly there was a dramatic rise in violent street crime, including drug-related murders, as well as armed robberies, rapes and violent assaults. Inner city neighborhoods became far more violent and people tried to move out to safer ones. The number of violent crimes more than tripled from 288,000 in 1960 (including 9,110 murders) to 1,040,000 in 1975 (including 20,510 murders). Then the numbers levelled off.[10]

In response to sharply rising rates of crime in the 1960s, treatment of criminal offenders, both accused and convicted, became a highly divisive topic in the 1968 U.S. Presidential Election. RepublicanVice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew, then the governor of Maryland, often used the expression; Agnew and Nixon won and were reelected in 1972.[11]

Notorious crimes by released murders occurred in the 1980's and 1990's, are often credited with influencing politics along Law and Order lines [2]. Most notably the release of the murderer Willie Horton who committed a rape and a rampage of severe violence when he was released Willie Horton, is generally credited with favoring the election of president George H. W. Bush over the man who released him, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. Whatever the cause, Bush beat Dukakis by a margin of both popular and electoral college votes that has not been surpassed since United States presidential election, 1988. Also, the release of the murderer Reginald McFadden who went on a serial murder and rape spree [3] by the acting governor of Pennsylvania, Mark Singel may have been a contributing factor in the election of Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge. Ridge's win against Singel was quite clear at 45% to 39% Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, 1994.


Advocates of stricter policies toward crime and those accused of crime have won many victories since the issue became important. Highlights include stringent laws dealing with the sale and use of illicit drugs. For example, the Rockefeller drug laws passed in New York state in 1973—and later, laws mandating tougher sentences for repeat offenders, such as the three-strikes laws adopted by many U.S. states starting in 1993 and the re-legalization of the death penalty in several states.[11]

Opponents of these and similar laws have often accused advocates of racism. Civil rights groups have steadfastly opposed the trend toward harsher measures generally. The law-and-order issue caused a deep rift within the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and 1970s, and this rift was seen by many political scientists as a major contributing factor in Ronald Reagan's two successful Presidential runs in 1980 and 1984. In both elections, millions of registered Democrats voted for Reagan, and they collectively became known as "Reagan Democrats". Many of these voters eventually changed their party registration and became Republicans, especially in the South.[11]

Though violent crimes are the primary focus of law-and-order advocates, quality-of-life crimes are sometimes also included under the law-and-order umbrella, particularly in local elections. A tough stance on this matter greatly helped Rudy Giuliani win two terms as mayor of New York in the 1990s, and was also widely cited as propelling Gavin Newsom to victory over a more liberal opponent in San Francisco's mayoral election of 2003. Richard Riordan also became Los Angeles' new mayor in 1993 for the first time in 20 years after Tom Bradley retired.

Platt (1995) argues that the intensity of law-and-order campaigns represents a significant shift in criminal justice that involves modernization and increased funding for police technology and personnel, privatization of security services and surveillance, higher rates of incarceration, and greater racial inequality in security and punishment.[12]

International issue[edit]

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(September 2017)

Crime has also become a prominent issue in Canadian, British, Australian, South African, French, and New Zealand politics, following the lead of the United States.


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(April 2009)

Critics of law-and-order politics commonly point to actual and potential abuses of judicial and police powers, including police brutality and misconduct, racial profiling, prison overcrowding, and miscarriages of justice. As an example, they argue that while crime in New York City dropped under Mayor Giuliani, reports of police brutality increased during the same period. This period included the fatal shootings of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, and the Abner Louima incident.[13][14][15]

In extreme cases, civil unrest has broken out in retaliation against law-and-order politics, as happened in London's Brixton district in 1981, Los Angeles in 1992, France in 2005, and Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.[citation needed]

In 2009, Pennsylvania juvenile court judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were pleaded guilty in the "kids for cash" scandal, of taking kickbacks from private prison industry officials in exchange for sentencing over 1,000 youths to prison terms for minor offenses.[16][17]

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a role model of tougher sentencing campaigners for his hardline corrections policies, was investigated by the FBI – starting in 2009 – for alleged abuses of power and intimidation of dissenting officials, among other controversies.[18][19]

A United States Supreme Court ruling in 2011 ordered the State of California to cut its inmate population, citing prison overcrowding to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment.[20]

Order without law[edit]

In a limited number of cases, it can be argued that order can be maintained without law. Robert Ellickson, in his book Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes, concludes that it is sometimes possible for order to be maintained without law in small, close-knit groups. Ellickson examines rural Shasta County, California, in which cattle openly roam and sometimes destroy crops. He finds that since social norms call for the cattle owner to pay for the damaged crops, the disputes are settled without law. According to Ellickson, not only is the law not necessary to maintain order in this case, but it is more efficient for social norms to govern the settling of disputes.[21]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Flamm, Michael W. Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (2005)[22]
  • Hameiri, Shahar. "Governing disorder: the Australian Federal Police and Australia's new regional frontier," Pacific Review, Dec 2009, Vol. 22 Issue 5, pp 549–574
  • Niaz, Ilhan. "The Debate on Law and Order and Development: Pakistani Elite's Orientations," Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies," Summer 2009, Vol. 32 Issue 4, pp 1-19
  • Platt, Anthony M. "The Politics of Law and Order," Social Justice Volume: 21. Issue: 3. 1994. pp 3+[23]
  • Don Weatherburn. Law and Order in Australia: Rhetoric and Reality (Sydney: The Federation Press, 2004


  1. ^Michael W. Flamm, Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (2005).
  2. ^John Adams (1856). The works of John Adams, second President of the United States. Volume 1. p. 439. ISBN 9781623764623. 
  3. ^Thomas Jefferson (1829). Memoir, correspondence, and miscellanies from the papers of T. Jefferson. p. 370. 
  4. ^Tribune Almanac and Political Register: 1901. 1901. pp. 92–93. 
  5. ^FBI, Uniform Crime Reports (2009)
  6. ^Ann K. Johnson, Urban Ghetto Riots, 1965-1968 (1996)
  7. ^Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles (2007)
  8. ^Robert M. Fogelson, Violence as Protest: A Study of Riots and Ghettos (1971)
  9. ^National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Report on Civil Disorders (1968), the famous the Kerner Commission Report
  10. ^FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Violent crimes included murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Source: Table Ec1-10 - Estimated crimes known to police, by type of offense: 1960-1997, in Susan Carter, ed. Historical Statistics of the United States Millennial Edition Online (2009)
  11. ^ abcFlamm, Law and Order (2005)
  12. ^Anthony M. Platt, "Crime Rave", Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine, June 1995, Vol. 47#2 pp 35-46
  13. ^"Rudy Giuliani on Crime". Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
  14. ^"Giuliani and Violence in Pre-9/11 New York". 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
  15. ^"Trial Puts Giuliani, NYPD on Defensive". 1999-03-30. Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
  16. ^"Americas | US judges admit taking kickbacks". BBC News. 2009-02-13. Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
  17. ^"US judges admit to jailing children for money". Reuters. 22 February 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  18. ^Wingett, Yvonne (2009-05-22). "Sources: FBI asking questions on Arpaio". Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
  19. ^Wingett, Yvonne (2010-03-05). "FBI expands Joe Arpaio probe to Maricopa County Attorney". Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
  20. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-03-05. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  21. ^Fischel, William A. (1993-01-01). "Review of Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes". Land Economics. 69 (1): 113–115. doi:10.2307/3146284. JSTOR 3146284. 
  22. ^Civil Rights. Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History): Michael W. Flamm: 9780231115131: Books. ASIN 023111513X. 
  23. ^"The Politics of Law and Order" by Platt, Anthony M. - Social Justice, Vol. 21, Issue 3, Fall 1994 | Online Research Library: Questia Reader". Retrieved 2016-07-29. 
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