The claim that “crime doesn’t pay” was an early slogan of the FBI. But while the claim may be a truism in the long run, in the short-term criminal activity can produce an income comparable to the earnings of a middle-class worker.
At least that’s the finding of a new paper published in the journal Criminology. Holly Nguyen of Pennsylvania State University and Thomas Loughran of the University of Maryland-College Park attempt to gauge how much money people earn through criminal activities and whether self-reports of illegal income are reliable by examining two data sets. The data was provided by interviews in the Pathways to Desistance Study and the National Supported Work Demonstration Project.
The Pathways study tracked surveyed individuals who were convicted of a felony at some point between the ages of 14 and 17. They were then tracked for seven years and interviewed about illegal work and illegal income. Most of the participants were male, either black or Hispanic, and had an average of 21 years. About 44 percent didn’t finish high school.
Individuals in this study reported earning an average of $1,470 a week through criminal activities. Out of this group, 83 percent reported selling drugs for money, 41 percent engaged in burglary, and 12 percent reported engaging in robbery. About 26 percent of the interviewees said they engaged in at least one of the following crimes: shoplifting, buying/receiving/selling stolen property, using checks/credit cards illegally, stealing a car or motorcycle, stealing something worth more than $100 and entering a building to steal.
Participants reported working a traditional job an average of 11 weeks over a one-year period.
The other survey, by the National Supported Work Demonstration project, conducted interviews with people who were unemployed and had a history of employment problems but may not have had criminal backgrounds. The respondents were primarily male and black and ranged in age from 16 to 49 years. Out of this group, 67 percent did not have a high school diploma.
Individuals in this study reported earning an average of $914 a week through criminal activities. Out of this group, 55 percent reported selling drugs to earn money. In slightly more than 8 percent of interviews, they reported engaging in robbery. An estimated 38 percent of participants said they had engaged in other income-generating crimes such as pickpocketing, selling weapons, embezzling, selling stolen vehicles and forging stolen checks.
Participants in this group reported spending an average of 57 hours working a traditional job over a nine-month period.
For both groups, those who did more legal work tended to have lower illegal earnings. For every $1 earned legally, there was a 7-percent reduction in illegal earnings.