DECONSTRUCTING THE MONOLITHIC EFFECT OF EMPLOYMENT ON CRIME: THE ROLE OF HETEROGENEITY IN JOB QUALITY
Loughran, Thomas A
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Theorists and policy makers alike have relied on the overly parsimonious assumption that any employment should deter crime at the individual-level. Drawing on rational choice and dual labor market theories, the present study argues that this assumption is flawed for two reasons. First, it ignores vast heterogeneity in job quality which may fall under the guise of “employment.” Second, the assumption that employment uniformly deters crime is theoretically inconsistent when workplace crime is considered as an outcome. The present study evaluated the relationship between job quality and crime using a longitudinal sample of adults who had been adjudicated for a serious criminal offense in their youth. Focusing on individuals during their transition to adulthood provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the relationship between job quality and crime during a time in the life course when employment begins to take an especially prominent role. The robust employment-related measures available within the Pathways to Desistance data also provided the opportunity to improve upon operationalizations of job quality used in prior literature through measuring job quality as a multidimensional construct consistent with theory as well as discourse outside of criminology. While findings provided evidence of both between and within-individual variability in job quality amongst this high-risk sample, there was no evidence that transitioning from having no job to having a low-quality job was associated with a reduction in street or workplace offending. Among those who were working, there was also no evidence that a higher or high-quality job was associated with a reduction in street crime. Within the low-quality secondary sector, an increase in job quality was also not associated with a reduction in street crime. With respect to workplace crime, higher quality employment was found to have a marginally significant association with offending. However, high (relative to low) job quality was not associated with a reduction in workplace crime. When employment remained within the low-quality secondary sector, an increase in job quality was not found to be negatively associated workplace crime. In evaluating the street-workplace crime overlap, findings suggested that higher job quality was not significantly associated with committing no crime, committing workplace crime, or committing both (street and workplace crime), relative to committing street crime only. In addition, higher job quality was also not associated with committing workplace crime, or both, relative to committing no crime; nor was higher job quality associated with committing both types of crime relative to workplace crime only. Higher job quality was only found to be marginally associated with a reduced likelihood of committing both types of crime relative to committing street crime only. In addition, high-quality primary sector employment was not associated with committing no crime, or committing workplace crime only, relative to street crime only. It was also not found to be associated with the likelihood of committing no crime relative to workplace crime only. High-quality primary sector employment was, however, found to be associated (at least marginally) with a reduced likelihood of committing both types of crime relative to no crime, workplace crime only, and street crime only. Taken together, these results speak to the importance of avoiding the overly simplistic assumption that the relationship between employment and crime is uniformly negative. Overall, the study found little consistent support for its hypotheses which posited a negative relationship between job quality and offending. The lack of consistent support for the notion that higher and even high-quality employment serves an effective informal cost of crime throughout this study, especially with respect to street crime, speaks to the importance of further understanding cost-benefit considerations which influence offender decision-making.