Is Kentucky Experiencing A Spike In Crime Rates?
By any reliable measure, crime rates have dramatically declined across the United States for nearly 40 years. The Uniform Crime Reports show the decline, as do national victimization surveys and independent academic research. Like the nation as a whole, Kentucky has enjoyed declining crime rates in recent decades. But could this long-term trend be coming to an end? While predictions always are dangerous, it seems social and economic conditions may be lining up to generate a spike in crime.
While the causes of crime vary, there are a few things criminologists know empirically about criminal behavior. Street crime tends to cluster among the poor, underemployed and less educated. These three characteristics are highly correlated.
This does not mean, however, that poor and undereducated individuals are intrinsically criminal; there certainly is no shortage of criminality among the well-educated and affluent. Rather, it means poor people statistically are more likely to engage in the types of crime police are charged with controlling.
We also know major socio-economic changes affect crime rates. So, why might Kentucky be ripe for a spike in crime?
Currently, Kentucky’s labor participation rate is hovering around 58 percent — one of the worst in the nation. Although economic and employment conditions have improved across the country, Kentucky still is experiencing one of the lowest labor participation rates of any state, and its economy continues to lag behind the rest of the United States.
The nation’s economy is growing at about 2.2 percent per year, whereas Kentucky’s economy is only growing at 1 percent. Income inequality also has been a serious problem for Kentucky since at least the 1970s. In 2012, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy reported that, “[i]ncome inequality is rising in Kentucky for a range of reasons, with the growing gap in wages playing a major role. Widening wage inequality is due to such factors as long periods of high unemployment, a decline in better-paying manufacturing jobs due to trade and other policies and a minimum wage that has not kept up with price increases.”
Additionally, Kentucky’s poverty rate continues to creep higher with nearly 20 percent of the population living in poverty. In short, Kentucky has not experienced an economic recovery.
The higher education front looks somewhat better than the general economic picture. But Kentucky also has experienced massive declines in state funding for higher education, which has made the goal of attaining a college degree more difficult for the average person.
Between 2008 and 2016, higher education in Kentucky experienced a 32 percent reduction in state funding. Only five other states have had greater reductions in education spending. And these statistics do not reflect the recently announced budget cuts to higher education. Kentucky thus continues to rank low among the states for percentage of citizens holding a college degree (21 percent vs. 28 percent) and very low for college graduation rates (24 percent vs. 34 percent). This situation, in part, explains why Kentucky workers have some of the lowest hourly wages of any workers in the United States.
When we pair these two trends together with what we know about street crime, it certainly looks like Kentucky is poised to experience an increase in criminality. What remains to be seen is just how high crime rates might climb.