Dwindling crime rate, the economy, and our country’s morality

Every year I try to write at least one article about how things are getting better. And for the last three years one of those things has been the crime rate. It just keeps dropping in America. Across the board, no matter how you slice it, America is safer today than it has been in quite awhile.

Nobody can explain exactly why. But maybe it is that Americans are actually remembering our greatest asset is our fundamental respect for others.

The facts show that violent crime in the United States dropped significantly last year to the lowest rate it has seen in almost 40 years. That followed similar drops in the rate since 2008. This all happened while the country’s unemployment rate skyrocketed, while personal incomes shrunk, and during one of the worst recessions the nation has experienced since the Great Depression.

Murder was down 4.4 percent, rape fell 4.2 percent, aggravated assault was down 3.6 percent and property crimes fell 2.8 percent. The biggest surprise of all: robberies plummeted 9.5 percent, at a time when people need money more than ever.

The odds of being murdered or robbed nowadays are less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, also a time of economic recession and hardship but during which violent crime skyrocketed in the United States.

So the question is, what differentiates now from then?

Some crime experts have surmised that we are getting better at protecting ourselves with all the latest security locks and procedures, and a greater awareness that crime exists and that we need to be on the lookout for suspicious characters and behaviors.

But as long as I have been alive, people have been doing all that; it’s not like we were leaving our doors open back in the 1990s when the crime rate skyrocketed after a recession. So to claim that suddenly over the last four years people started safeguarding seems a little far-fetched.

So what could it be?

Maybe it’s morality? Contrary to popular belief, America might really be getting more moral, or at least more respectful of others.

I don’t have a great deal of proof for this except for maybe a little historical analysis.

Back in the ’90s when we had our last big surge in crime following a period of economic difficulty, President Clinton ran for office and won with one battle cry: the economy. The idea was that all our problems could be solved by the resurgence of economic prosperity. But they weren’t.

Economic prosperity did return in the mid ’90s with the dot-com explosion, the stock market surge and a whole lot of other economic indicators on the rise. But the crime rate didn’t go down.

Maybe it’s because it wasn’t accompanied by any moral component. Almost all of that growth was irresponsible. Dot-coms were starting in every corner of America and promoting themselves as the next big thing so they could raise their valuation, go public, make a gazillion dollars and then reveal they had no real product to sell or service to deliver. When the bubble burst so did the economy.

Then this whole irresponsible bubble economy was repeated with the housing rush a few years ago.

The bottom line was back then we missed the point — prosperity and capitalism cannot and should not be built on selfishness.

And maybe, just maybe, that will lead to a trend — not just of less crime, but of a higher calling in all of us.

Chris Benguhe is a columnist for The Catholic Sun. Visit www.OneMoreDayAlive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @cbenguhe.

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Chris Benghue, who went from Hollywood tabloid reporter to telling the inspiring stories of people who overcome tough times, is a columnist for The Catholic Sun. He has released his fifth book, "The Best of A Better View."