Unemployment and Crime in US Cities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

J Urban Health. 2022 Feb;99(1):82-91. doi: 10.1007/s11524-021-00605-3. Epub 2022 Jan 27.


Unemployment and violence both increased during the coronavirus pandemic in the United States (US), but no studies to our knowledge have examined their association. Using data for 16 US cities from January 2018 to July 2020, we estimated the association between acute changes in unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic and violent and acquisitive crime. We used negative binomial regression models and parametric g-computation to estimate average differences in crime incidents if the highest and lowest levels of unemployment observed in each city had been sustained across the exposure period (March-July 2020), compared with observed unemployment in each city-month. During the pandemic, the percentage of the adult population who were unemployed was 8.1 percentage points higher than expected, on average. Increases in unemployment were associated with increases in firearm violence and homicide. For example, we estimated an average increase of 3.3 firearm violence incidents (95% CI: - 0.2, 6.7) and 2.0 homicides (95% CI: - 0.2, 3.9) per city-month from March to July 2020 if all cities experienced their highest versus observed level of unemployment. There was no association between unemployment and aggravated assault or any acquisitive crime. Findings suggest that the sharp rise in unemployment during the pandemic may have contributed to increases in firearm violence and homicide, but not other crime. Additional research is needed on mechanisms of association, generalizability, and modifying factors.

Keywords: COVID-19; Crime; Gun violence; Unemployment; Violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cities
  • Coronavirus*
  • Crime
  • Firearms*
  • Homicide
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Unemployment
  • United States / epidemiology