NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 19, 2008

Individuals who obtain support from monthly welfare payments receive these payments at the beginning of the month, and often exhaust these payments rapidly, according to a collection of studies.  Therefore, some scholars hypothesize that many welfare recipients turn to crime to supplement their income during the remainder of each month.  Fitz Foley of Harvard Business School tests the hypothesis that income generating criminal activity increases in the amount of time that has passed since welfare payments occurred.  

Foley studied 15 cities in which at least 10 percent of the population participates in the Food Stamp program.  According to Foley's findings:

  • The timing of welfare payments does affect criminal activity.
  • More crime takes place when more time has passed since welfare payments occurred.
  • In jurisdictions where welfare payments do not only occur at the beginning of the month, there are no temporal patterns in crime.
  • Individuals who receive support from welfare payments quickly consume welfare income and then attempt to supplement it with income from criminal activity.

Based on these conclusions, Foley recommends:

  • The frequency of welfare payments should be increased, which will smooth patterns in crimes.
  • In jurisdictions where welfare payments are concentrated at the beginning of the month, officials should increase police protection during the end of the month when more crimes occur.
  • More flexible labor laws could help police departments alter deployment schedules to prevent and combat crime.

Source: Fitz Foley, "Welfare Payments and Crime," National Bureau of Economic Research, June 2008.

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