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Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime:

Is It That Simple? Using General Strain

Theory to Untangle the Relationship1
Stephen W. Baron
Queens University

Des chercheurs ont recommande de porter une plus grande attention aux
variables reliant le chomage et la criminalite. En particulier, ils ont suggere
que la facon dont les gens interpretent leur situation sur le marche du travail
influe grandement sur leur reaction dans cette situation. A laide des theories
des tensions generales, la presente recherche porte sur le role joue par le
chomage dans le comportement criminel de 400 jeunes de la rue. Un element
interessant est la maniere dont ces jeunes interpretent leurs experiences de
travail, et comment ces interpretations et ces experiences influent toutes
deux sur le comportement criminel. Les resultats revelent que les effets du
chomage sur la criminalite sont principalement modifies et moderes par
dautres variables. En particulier, le chomage depend dattributions externes
qui menent a la colere envers linemploi, ce qui engendre la criminalite. Leffet
direct du chomage sur le crime est modere par le mecontentement lie a
largent et a une recherche demploi minimale. La colere envers le chomage
resulte aussi dinterpretations subjectives negatives de la situation economi-
que et dun attachement incessant au marche du travail. En outre, ces percep-
tions negatives, labsence de soutien de la part de lEtat, une diminution du
controle social et labsence prolongee de domicile augmentent la participation
directe aux activites criminelles. Cette participation est aussi encouragee par
les pairs, les valeurs anormales et le mepris des peines encourues. On discute
des resultats obtenus et on offre dautres pistes de recherche.

Mots cles : jeune de la rue, theories des tensions generales, chomage,


Researchers have called for greater attention to be paid to the variables linking
unemployment to crime. In particular, it has been suggested that peoples
interpretation of their labour market situation plays a large role in shaping
their responses to it. Utilizing general strain theory, this research examines
the role that unemployment plays in the criminal behaviour of 400 homeless
street youths. Of particular interest is the way that these youths interpret
their labour market experiences and how together these interpretations and

2008 CJCCJ/RCCJP doi:10.3138/cjccj.50.4.399

400 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

experiences influence criminal behaviour. Findings reveal that the effect of

unemployment on crime is mediated and moderated primarily by other
variables. In particular, unemployment is conditioned by external casual
attributions that lead to anger over unemployment, which in turn leads to
crime. The direct effect of unemployment on crime is moderated by monetary
dissatisfaction and minimal employment searches. Anger over unemployment
is also the result of negative subjective interpretations of economic situations
and a continued attachment to the labour market. In addition, these negative
subjective perceptions, the lack of state support, a decrease in social control,
and prolonged homelessness lead to greater participation in criminal activities
directly. Criminal involvement is also encouraged by peers, deviant values,
and a lack of fear of punishment. Findings are discussed and suggestions for
future research are offered.

Keywords: street youth, general strain theory, unemployment, crime


While earlier research reported an inconsistent or weak relationship

between unemployment and crime (see Box 1987; Chiricos 1987),
recent work has generally revealed that unemployment, or changes
to the unemployment rate, are positively related to some types of
criminal behaviour (see Bellair and Roscigno 2000; Britt 1997, 2001;
Cantor and Land 2001; Carlson and Michalowski 1997; Chamlin and
Cochran 2000; Crutchfield and Pitchford 1997; Greenberg 2001; Hale
and Sabbagh 1991; Kleck and Chiricos 2002; Krivo and Peterson
2004; Land, Cantor, and Russell 1995; OBrien 2001; Paternoster and
Bushway 2001; Witt, Clarke, and Fielding 1999). Most of this research,
however, has utilized aggregate-level data linking unemployment
rates to crime rates. Critics have argued that the link between unem-
ployment and crime rests on a micro-theoretical foundation that
cannot be captured utilizing aggregate-level data (Box 1987; Levitt
2001; Long and Witte 1981; Orsagh and Witt 1981). These scholars
observe that the theoretical explanations for the link between unem-
ployment and crime focus on subjective perceptions, interpretations,
and emotional reactions to the experience of unemployment (see Box;
Cantor and Land; Greenberg; Levitt). Levitt (388) notes that inferences
from aggregate-level data may be misleading and argues that this
research cannot capture the subtle predictions about a variety of
possible behavioral channels through which the crime-unemployment
nexus operates. Levitt (388) advocates the use of other approaches,
including individual-level analysis, and notes that surprisingly,
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 401

however, there has been relatively little previous research on the sub-
ject utilizing these alternative strategies.

The limited available individual-level research does suggest that

there is a relationship between unemployment and crime
(Bachman, OMalley, and Johnston 1978; Baron and Hartnagel 1997;
Cernkovich, Giordano, and Rudolph 2000; Crowley 1984; Elliott 1994;
Farrington, Gallagher, Morely, St Ledger, and West 1986; Hagan and
McCarthy 1997; Hartnagel 1998; Hartnagel and Krahn 1989; Inciardi,
Horowitz, and Pottieger 1993; Shavit and Rattner 1988; Thornberry
and Christianson 1984). This research, however, tends to be limited
by its focus on objective information about respondents employment
status and history and, similar to aggregate-level work, tends to
ignore the more subjective aspects of the theoretical foundations
(although see Baron and Hartnagel; Cernkovich et al.; Hartnagel).
Crutchfield and Pitchford (1997: 91) suggest, [At] a minimum we
should be aware that simplistic notions about the relationship between
unemployment and crime have limited utility. In response, research-
ers have been encouraged to pay greater attention to the variables
theoretically thought to link unemployment and crime (Box 1987;
Box and Hale 1985). Scholars note that the way people interpret
their unemployment should influence the way they respond to unem-
ployment (Box; Box and Hale; Hartnagel). The effect of unemployment
may not be influenced only by actual financial problems but also
by perceptions of economic difficulties and judgments of fairness
in reward distribution. Further, responses to unemployment may
depend on peoples employment histories, beliefs about the causes
of their unemployment, their social circles, and the importance they
place on employment. People respond with different emotions to
their unemployment and these feelings can influence whether they
engage in crime. Box and Hale note that because of these complexities
one would expect only a sub-population of the unemployed to become
involved in crime, and it is because of these various dimensions
that attempts to establish monocausal connections have fallen
short (see also Box).

The following paper explores the link between unemployment and

crime, using a sample of homeless street youth, focusing on the way
that these young people interpret their unemployment experiences
and how these interpretations lead to crime. Street youths are
often unemployed, spend periods of time without shelter, and hang
out on the street regularly (Baron 2004; Hagan and McCarthy 1997).
The absence of legal financial resources to help house and feed
402 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

themselves, and the potential for alienation as a result of these

experiences, leaves these youths at risk for criminal activity (Baron;
Hagan and McCarthy), making them an ideal sample to explore the
unemploymentcrime relationship.

Theoretical explanations of unemployment and crime

There is no shortage of theoretical explanations to help understand

the link between unemployment and crime. Box (1987) notes that
nearly every major criminological theory can be interpreted to sup-
port the link between the two. However, in light of the call by critics
to examine a wide array of the more subjective components of the
unemployment experience, one theory that is potentially fruitful in
explaining the link is Agnews (1992, 2001, 2006) general strain
theory (GST). This approach focuses attention on how objective experi-
ences, subjective interpretations, and emotional reactions can all be
linked to crime. Agnew emphasizes how negative experiences can
lead to criminal behaviour. His theory outlines several categories
of strain into which unemployment might fall, including goal block-
age, failure to achieve positively valued goals, and presentation of
negative stimuli. Agnew (2001) also distinguishes between objective
strains and subjective strains. Objective strains are conditions thought
to be disliked generally by most members of a given group (e.g.,
unemployment), while subjective strains are disliked by the indivi-
duals actually experiencing them (Agnew 2001, 2006). He notes that
individuals can differ in their interpretation of objective strains and
these may be influenced by values, resources, and life circumstances.

Agnew observes that strain will more likely result in crime when it is
viewed as unjust or when it involves the voluntary and intentional
violation of a relevant justice norm (2001: 329) and when people
believe their strain is undeserved (2001: 330). The impact of strain
may also vary, depending upon its severity or magnitude, duration,
recency, and centrality. Strains high or severe in magnitude decrease
the perceived costs of criminal coping and increase the disposition for
criminal coping. Strains that are of high frequency, longer in duration,
and unresolved are expected to have a greater negative impact on an
individual. Finally, strains that threaten core goals, needs, and values
are seen as central and more likely to provoke a criminal response.

Agnew (2001, 2006) outlines the major sources of economic strain

that will have a significant impact on crime: unemployment, relative
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 403

deprivation, and monetary dissatisfaction. Unemployment may

increase an individuals motivation to commit crime to overcome
financial difficulties. Further, those on the margins of society are
more likely to be monetarily dissatisfied and/or relatively deprived,
living in poverty in the midst of plenty (Agnew 2006: 73; Agnew,
Cullen, Burton, Evans, and Dunaway 1996), and these can both lead
to crime. Unhappiness with ones current financial situation is seen
as key because it is linked to the reality of the moment and not
some abstract future often suggested by measures utilized in early
work on strain theory, and this dissatisfaction is more likely to pres-
sure or propel people into crime (see Cernkovich et al. 2000: 145).
Relative deprivation is important because strain is seen as a function
of the achievements of others in ones comparative reference group,
as well as ones own failure to achieve. Pivotal here is the argument
that the egalitarian ideology in North American society encourages
individuals to compare themselves to those higher in the economic
system, leading to resentment, frustration, and hostility (Agnew 2006;
see also Passas 1997).

Agnew (1992: 59) argues that strain can lead to various affective
states, including the critical emotional reaction of anger. Anger is
viewed as key because it is associated with feelings of power and
stimulates desires for revenge and retaliation (Agnew 2006: 32). The
level of anger should be closely linked to subjective strains in parti-
cular, although Agnew (2001) admits that similar levels of subjective
strain can lead to different emotional responses or varying levels
of the same emotion. Agnew suggests that anger is often experienced
when individuals have difficulty satisfying goals. Further, it is a
method of responding to perceived injustice when individuals
feel they have the right to what others have (Agnew 2006: 33).
Anger is most likely to result when people make external attributions,
or blame the cause of their strain on others (see also Hoffman and
Ireland 1995). Further, peoples beliefs or constitutive rules as well
as ones peer group may also influence interpretations of strain and
the type and level of emotional response that might evolve in response
to strain (Bernard 1990; Hoffman and Ireland). Peer groups can also
influence the types of attributions that people make, and this inter-
action can help determine if people will react to strain with anger
(Hoffman and Ireland).

An angry emotional reaction to strain leads actors to consider

corrective action, which may include criminal activity. Whether
one chooses criminal corrective action is said to be influenced by
404 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

a number of conditioning factors: attributions, deviant attitudes,

and deviant peers. These conditioning factors either buffer one from
strain or increase ones disposition towards criminal behaviour.
Deviant peers can model and support criminal behaviour as responses
to strain (see Hoffman and Ireland 1995). Criminal beliefs or
regulative rules can influence options for appropriate behavioural
responses to strain (Bernard 1990), and external attributions are
said to make one more likely to seek revenge (Agnew 1992). Further,
it may be the influence of a criminal subculture where the combina-
tion of beliefs and criminal peers can fuel criminal behaviour (Agnew
et al. 1996; Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Cohen 1955).

Agnew (2001, 2006) also argues that levels of social control can influ-
ence whether strain leads to crime. Certain strains are associated
with low social control (e.g., unemployment). These types of strain
are said to be more likely to lead to crime because the costs of enga-
ging in crime are reduced. However, in the case where the unem-
ployed person continues to actively search for work, holds high
occupational commitment, and espouses a strong work ethic, there
can be a continued source of social control (see Hartnagel 1998).
These elements of social control may interact with unemployment,
influencing whether one will engage in crime (Box 1987; Hartnagel).
This suggests that it is in situations of low commitment where people
have stopped looking for work, do not espouse a work ethic, and no
longer believe work is important, that crime is most likely. Further,
the impact of unemployment on crime should be greatest when con-
ditioned by these characteristics of low social control. On the other
hand, some of these factors may also be seen to generate strain
through an alternative causal pathway (see Agnew 1992; Elliott,
Ageton, and Cantor 1979; Hartnagel). That is, continuing to search
for work, espousing a work ethic, and showing commitment to
work while not being able to secure employment may directly or
through their conditioning impact on unemployment create anger,
which in turn can lead to crime.

The perceived likelihood of formal punishment for crime must also

be considered. Agnew (2006) notes that criminal coping is much more
likely when individuals experiencing strain are in situations where
the costs of engaging in crime are low and the benefits are high.
Thus, the unemployed person who believes the odds of apprehension
and punishment are minimal and the social and material rewards to
be great, will view criminal behaviour as an attractive alternative.
Further, it may be that the criminogenic effects of unemployment are
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 405

greater under conditions of reduced certainty and severity of punish-

ment. Zimring and Hawkins (1973) stress that the maximum threat
influence of formal sanctions is greater for those who have the most
to lose if subjected to formal punishment. This suggests that the com-
bination of unemployment and minimal perceived legal punishment
is most likely to lead to crime.

In sum, this literature suggests that unemployment as an objective

experience may have only a small effect on crime. Instead, peoples
attributions for their unemployment, their subjective interpretations
of their conditions in terms of monetary dissatisfaction and relative
deprivation, and their objective financial situation may lead to nega-
tive emotional reactions over unemployment. Ones commitment
and attachment to the labour market might also increase the negative
emotional response to unemployment. Further, peoples peer group
and their own values regarding crime and appropriate responses
to unemployment may influence whether they become angry about
their unemployment. It may be the case that the effect of unemploy-
ment itself on anger is contingent on some of these other factors.
The impact of unemployment on anger may be greater when
people feel relatively deprived and monetarily dissatisfied, have few
economic resources, attribute the cause of their unemployment
to external sources, hold high levels of commitment to the labour
market, hold deviant values, and share deviant peers the last of
which shapes the direction of attributions.

In turn, it is the anger over unemployment that might lead to crime,

along with relative deprivation, monetary dissatisfaction, poor finan-
cial situation, external attributions, deviant peers, and deviant values.
For some, the lack of employment commitment, displayed in work
ethic and employment searches, along with the absence of fear of
punishment may lead to crime. Similar to its impact on anger,
the effect of unemployment on crime may be contingent on a host
of factors. The link between unemployment and crime should be
stronger when people feel deprived relative to others, are monetarily
dissatisfied, have few objective financial resources, attribute the
cause of their unemployment to external sources, lack social control
and a fear of formal punishment, and possess deviant peer networks
and deviant values, which interact to create a deviant subculture that
supports crime.2

Past work on general strain theory has tended to focus on cumula-

tive measures of strain, where measures of economic strain, if they
406 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

are included, are part of a battery of other negative life events.

Agnew (2001, 2006) argues that these cumulative measures of
strain mask the effects of the individual forms of strain and sug-
gests that more work is needed to determine the effects of indivi-
dual types of strain. Agnew (2001) also observes that there has
been little research on certain key measures outlined in his theory,
including those on goal blockage, and little work has utilized non-
conventional samples (although see Baron 2004). Further, there has
been little support in the general strain research for the conditioning
effects outlined in the theory (see Agnew 2001, 2006). However,
a few of the individual-level studies examining unemployment
outside of the general strain perspective do suggest that peers
(Hartnagel 1998), external attributions (Baron and Hartnagel 1997),
and perceptual measures of deprivation (Baron 2006) can condition
the impact of unemployment on crime. Further, the only study
using the GST to explicitly include unemployment as a stand-
alone measure found it was conditioned by deviant beliefs in
explaining violent offending (Baron 2004). These studies, however,
suffer because they tend to ignore either social control measures
(Baron and Hartnagel; Baron 2004, 2006) or perceptual measures
of poverty (Baron and Hartnagel; Hartnagel) in their analysis and
thus are not able to provide a more complete test of the theory.
Further, none of the research explores the direct and moderating
role of the social control measures of job searching and work
ethic to be examined here. It is also the case that the past
research has not examined how the deviant subculture, the fear
of punishment, and internal attributions for unemployment may
condition the impact of unemployment, and no work has examined
how peers may influence attributions. In addition, only one prior
study focusing on unemployment has included a situational mea-
sure of anger (Baron and Hartnagel). However, in that research,
which contained only males, no analysis was undertaken to deter-
mine how the factors outlined generated anger, and anger itself
did not predict any of the offences examined. This also means
that none of the previous research on unemployment has explored
if the interaction effects predict anger. In fact, despite their centrality
to the theory, only one piece of GST research has examined the
impact of interaction effects on anger (see Aseltine, Gore, and
Gordon 2000). Together this critique suggests that the strain per-
spective has yet to be fully tested and elaborated through an exam-
ination of socioeconomic strain.
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 407


The term street youth usually refers to youths who have run away
or been expelled from their homes and/or who spend some or all
of their time in public locations. For this study 400 respondents
(265 males and 135 females) were identified on the basis of four
sampling criteria: (1) participants must be aged 24 and under,
(2) they must have left or finished school, (3) they must be currently
unemployed, and (4) they have spent time without a fixed address
or living in a shelter in the previous 12 months. The rationales for
these criteria were (1) to cover the age range of those described
as street youth (Baron 2004), (2) to eliminate those not eligible for
full-time employment, and (3) to obtain a sample of serious at
risk youth.

Data collection

Data were collected between May 2000 and August 2001 in a large
western Canadian city with a population of approximately 2 million.
The study was centred in and around the downtown business core
of the city, bordered by the inner city and local skid row. The
researcher situated himself in geographical areas known to be fre-
quented by street youth and approached potential respondents,
alerted them to the project, and screened them for study eligibility.
Youths meeting the selection criteria were then provided with more
information and invited to participate.3 Additional contacts were
initiated by youths who had learned of the project and solicited
interviews or through introductions offered by previous respondents.
Youths were interviewed in fast-food restaurants, in front of store-
front social services, in bus shelters and parks, and on the street.
Face-to-face interviews provided the opportunity to gain some rap-
port with participants and to explain questions to ensure their
understanding, increasing the quality of measurement and decreasing
the odds of non-response (see Mosher, Miethe, and Phillips 2002).
Interviews averaged an hour and 10 minutes in length, and respon-
dents were provided 20 dollars in food coupons at a popular fast-
food restaurant for participation. Since there is a limited amount of
productive interview time with this population (Whitbeck and Hoyt
1999), lengthening the interview process may have stretched the
parameters of valid responses.4 For this reason, some of the concepts
lack multiple indicators.
408 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

The 400 youths who were interviewed had an average age of almost
20 years (x 19.90). The racial make-up of the sample was predomi-
nantly Caucasian (83%). Aboriginal youths made up the majority of
the other respondents (12%).5 The average length of homelessness
in the prior 12 months was close to 7 months (x 6.83). The average
education level was approximately grade 10 (x 9.99), and most
respondents had left school prior to completion of secondary educa-
tion (79.5%; N 318).

Measuring crime

Information on a number of measures of criminal involvement and

drug use was obtained via self-reports. Critics note that research
incorporating a wide range of behaviours, including serious offences,
that asks respondents to report on the actual not the relative
number of times they have engaged in these behaviours, is more
likely to uncover the conditions under which socioeconomic status
is related to crime (Elliott and Ageton 1980; Hindelang, Hirschi, and
Weiss 1979, 1981; Mosher et al. 2002). The respondents were asked
how many times in the past year they had done the following:
broken into a car, broken into a building, taken something worth
less than $50, taken something worth more than $50, broken into a
structure to sleep, stolen food, taken a car without permission of the
owner, sold marijuana or other non-prescription drugs, used physical
force to get money or things from another person, attacked someone
with a weapon or fists injuring them so badly they probably needed
a doctor, got into a fight, and taken part in a group fight. The raw
scores of individual offences were aggregated across the range of
offences to create measures of property crime, violent crime, and
drug distribution. An analysis of the raw frequency distributions for
the crime indices suggested a significant amount of variation as well
as a high degree of skewness in the measures. To reduce the skewness
in the measures, the index values were logged.

Predictor variables

Information was obtained in the interviews on the labour market

and interpretive factors hypothesized to be important in explaining
the criminal behaviour of street youth. Beginning with the potential
important objective measures that might be associated with crime, the
respondents length of unemployment was determined by asking,
How many months in the last year were you out of work? To mea-
sure the length of time living on the street, respondents were asked
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 409

to indicate how many months in the last year they had been without
a fixed address. A state-assistance variable was incorporated by a
simple dummy variable indicating whether or not the respondent
was receiving financial support from the government at the time of
the research.

Two interpretative measures of financial status were used. Monetary

dissatisfaction was determined by asking respondents to agree or
disagree with the statement Right now Im satisfied with how
much money I have to live on (1 strongly agree; 4 strongly
disagree) (see Agnew et al. 1996). Cantrils (1965) Self-Anchoring
Striving Scale utilized by Walker and Mann (1987) was used to mea-
sure relative deprivation. Walker and Mann note that egoistic
measures of relative social rank play an important role in determining
behaviour and attitudes at an individual level, whereas fraternalistic
measures of social rank explain behaviour at a group or social level.
Their findings suggest egoistic measures tap the individual-level stress
symptoms (including irritability) that can help explain the beliefs
and actions of the deprived. Respondents were asked, On a scale
from 1 to 10 where 1 is the worst possible rank in Canadian society
and 10 is the best possible rank in Canadian society, where do you
stand right now? The lower the nominated position on the ladder
the greater the deprivation. This was then reverse-coded so that
higher scores reflected greater feelings of deprivation.

A number of measures were included to tap into the role of employ-

ment commitment. Respondents were asked how frequently they
looked for a job (1 not looking for a job; 6 daily). Respondents
work ethic was determined by four items: The people who dont
succeed in life are just plain lazy; people who have failed at a job
have usually not tried hard enough; if one works hard enough he
is likely to make a good life for himself; a distaste for hard work
usually reflects a weakness in character (alpha .62).6

A number of measures were also included to explore the role that

attributions, values, peers, and emotions play in the criminal behav-
iour of street youth. First, to measure external attributions for
unemployment the respondents were asked to indicate how influen-
tial the failure of private industry to offer enough jobs, the failure
of government to create sufficient jobs, and the economic situation
of the country were as antecedents to their joblessness (alpha .68).7
To measure internal attributions for unemployment, or perceptions
of some sort of deficiency, respondents were asked how much
410 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

a lack of good education, lack of work experience, and lack

of specific skills were associated with their lack of employment
(alpha .68). To inspect the role of anger, respondents were asked
to agree or disagree with the statement I feel angry about my
unemployment (1 strongly disagree; 4 strongly agree). Deviant
values were determined by asking respondents, How wrong to you
think it is to break the law? (very wrong 1; not wrong at all 5).
To determine the number of deviant peers, youths were asked,
How many of your current friends have been picked up by the
police? (1 none; 5 all).

To examine the perceptions of sanctions, respondents were asked,

If you were to break the law, how likely is it that you would be
caught by the police? Five response options ranged from very
unlikely ( 1) to very likely ( 5). To obtain the severity measure,
respondents were asked, If you were caught breaking the law,
by the police, taken to court, and punished, how much of problem
would that create for your life? The three response options ranged
from no problem at all ( 1) to a large problem ( 3). Job stability
was calculated by summing all the jobs that a respondent had held
over his or her life so far. This measure was logged to reduce
skewness. Finally, the analysis controls for chronological age, gender
(males 1; females 2), and race (white 1; minority 2). Table 1
provides a summary of the means and standard deviations of the
predictor variables.

A limitation of many of the independent variables is that they mea-

sure current emotional reactions, perceptions of deprivation, punish-
ment risk, values, and associations that will then be correlated with
past criminal behaviour. However, Agnew (1989) in his longitudinal
analysis of strain found that adversity was a relatively stable variable,
suggesting that asking about current perceptions of strain type vari-
ables should be sufficient. Further, Mosher et al. (2002) have noted
that self-reported offending is relatively consistent and stable across
time periods in panel research, suggesting that the current measures
should be related to future crime in the short term. Nevertheless,
caution should be exercised in interpreting the findings here.

The literature reviewed above suggests that unemployment may

have only a weak impact on anger and crime and that its strength
may be moderated by a number of the variables described above.
The GST perspective suggests that the effect of unemployment on
anger and crime might be conditioned by relative deprivation,
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 411

Table 1: Descriptive statistics for independent variables

M SD Min. Max.

Age 19.90a 2.61 13 (2.6) 24 (1.6)

Gender 1.35 1.34 1 (0.7) 2 (1.4)
Minority 1.16 0.37 1 (0.44) 2 (2.3)
Unemployment 9.80 3.01 1 (2.9) 12 (0.7)
Length No Fixed Address 6.83 3.80 1 (1.5) 12 (1.4)
State Assistance 1.63 0.48 1 (3.0) 2 (2.7)
Relative Deprivation 6.98 2.36 1 (2.5) 10 (1.3)
Monetary Dissatisfaction 2.91 78.00 1 (2.4) 4 (1.4)
Unemployment Internal Attribution 3.40 0.96 1 (2.5) 5 (1.7)
Unemployment External Attribution 3.18 0.91 1 (2.4) 5 (2.0)
Job Stability 1.61 1.04 0 (1.6) 6.22 (4.4)
Job Search 2.51 1.92 1 (0.78) 6 (1.8)
Work Ethic 2.59 0.53 1 (3.0) 4 (2.7)
Certainty 2.45 1.26 1 (1.2) 5 (2.0)
Severity 2.21 0.76 1 (1.6) 3 (1.0)
Deviant Values 2.70 1.22 1 (1.4) 5 (1.9)
Deviant Peers 3.88 1.11 1 (2.6) 5 (1.0)
Situational Anger 2.34 0.82 1 (1.6) 4 (2.0)
Property Crime 5.46 (422.78)b 2.26 (2188.99) 0 10.17 (26206)
Violent Crime 1.56 (25.10) 1.40 (223.35) 0 8.39 (4400)
Drug Sales 4.28 (4192.72) 3.78 (13015.20) 0 12.17 (192000)
The mean for the standardized variables is 0 with a standard deviation of 1. Ranges for
standardized variables are in parentheses.
The numbers inside parentheses are raw scores. Numbers outside parentheses
are logged values of raw scores.

monetary dissatisfaction, state support, and homelessness, as well as

attributions, peers, and values. Thus, interaction effects were created
by multiplying unemployment with the relative deprivation, mone-
tary dissatisfaction, state support, homelessness, external attribution,
internal attribution, deviant peers, and deviant values measures.
The theory also suggests that unemployment may have a stronger
impact on crime when there is less commitment to work and more
job instability. Therefore, three more interactions were created by
multiplying unemployment with the work ethic, job searching, and
job stability. The literature suggests that unemployment may have
a greater impact when there is less fear of formal punishment.
To explore this possibility, two more interactions were estimated by
multiplying unemployment with the certainty and severity of punish-
ment variables. Finally, the theory suggests that there may be inter-
actions between peers and attributions and peers and values. Three
additional interactions were created by multiplying deviant peers with
412 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

the external attribution, internal attribution, and deviant values vari-

ables. To decrease problems of multi-collinearity between the inter-
action variables and the lower-order variables from which they were
created, all variables used in the interactions were first standardized,
and their resultant z scores were used in the multiplication process
(see Aiken and West 1991).


The analysis proceeded by first entering the demographic control

variables and unemployment in an OLS regression to predict anger
over unemployment. In the next step the rest of the variables thought
to predict anger were added to the equation. This allows us to see
if the direct effect of unemployment on anger is mediated by these
other variables. Interaction effects theorized to be linked to anger
were then entered into the equation one at a time to examine their
separate effects (see Paternoster and Mazerolle 1994). This procedure
allows us to look at the impact of unemployment when it is con-
ditioned by relative deprivation, monetary dissatisfaction, home-
lessness, state assistance, deviant peers, deviant values, external
attributions, and internal attributions. Further, the interactions
between deviant peers and the two forms of attribution are examined.
The interactions involving work ethic, job search, and job instability
are also included here since they may lead to anger at this stage.
The unemployed may be more likely to become angry when they
hold higher levels of work ethic, continue to search for employment,
and have greater histories of job instability.

The analysis then proceeds to predict the three different types of

crime by first entering the demographic control variables and
unemployment into the equations. It then moves to include all the
lower-order variables, including anger, in the equations.8 Tests for
interaction effects follow by entering the interaction variables one at
a time to examine their separate effects as well the additional condi-
tioning effects of certainty and severity on unemployment and the
interacting role of peers and values.

Predicting anger

We begin by examining the link between the lower-order measures

and anger. Table 2 shows that unemployment does not have a signifi-
cant effect on anger when it is entered with only the control variables.
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 413

Table 2: OLS regression predicting situational anger

B (b)a B (b) B (b) B (b) B (b)

Age .125 (.102) .079 (.065) .091 (.074) .070 (.057) .078 (.064)
.044 .045 .046 .046 .045
Gender .023 (.019) .001 (.001) .010 (.018) .009 (.007) .004 (.003)
.044 .042 .042 .042 .042
Minority .071 (.058) .048 (.040) .050 (.041) .052 (.042) .049 (.040)
.041 .039 .039 .039 .039
Unemployment .056 (.046) .036 (.029) .051 (.042) .017 (.014) .034 (.028)
.041 .043 .043 .043 .043
Length No ^ .065 (.054) .059 (.049) .067 (.056) .062 (.051)
Fixed Address .039 .039 .039 .039
State Assistance ^ .029 (.024) .029 (.024) .028 (.023) .030 (.024)
.041 .041 .042 .041
Relative ^ .097 (.080) .106 (.087) .091 (.075) .096 (.080)
Deprivation .038 .038 .038 .038
Monetary ^ .207 (.170) .204 (.168) .211 (.174) .209 (.171)
Dissatisfaction .039 .039 .039 .039
Unemployment ^ .213 (.174) .201 (.165) .204 (.167) .212 (.174)
Internal .042 .042 .042 .042
Unemployment ^ .072 (.059) .085 (.070) .072 (.059) .066 (.054)
External .041 .041 .041 .041
Job Stability ^ .014 (.011) .010 (.008) .015 (.012) .008 (.007)
.046 .045 .045 .046
Job Search ^ .141 (.116) .137 (.113) .138 (.114) .145 (.119)
.042 .042 .042 .042
Work Ethic ^ .114 (.094) .117 (.097) .118 (.098) .117 (.097)
.041 .041 .041 .041
Certainty ^ .067 (.056) .071 (.059) .067 (.055) .074 (.061)
.042 .041 .041 .042
Severity ^ .065 (.053) .073 (.060) .062 (.051) .058 (.048)
.040 .041 .040 .040
Deviant Values ^ .081 (.067) .081 (.067) .081 (.067) .083 (.068)
.044 .043 .043 .043
Deviant Peers ^ .065 (.053) .058 (.048) .066 (.054) .060 (.049)
.039 .038 .038 .039
Unemployment  ^ ^ .097 (.075) ^ ^
Unemployment .036
Unemployment  ^ ^ ^ .087 (.071) ^
Unemployment .038

(Continued )
414 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

Table 2: Continued
B (b)a B (b) B (b) B (b) B (b)

Peers  ^ ^ ^ ^ .076 (.062)

Unemployment .037
R2 .019 .233 .242 .240 .239
N 399 391 391 391 391

Sig .05 one-tailed test

Sig .01 one-tailed test

Sig .05 two-tailed test

Sig .01 two-tailed test

B standardized coefficient; (b) unstandardized coefficient; SE standard error of
unstandardized coefficient

The results do show, however, that older respondents tended to show

greater anger over their unemployment. In the equation including the
broader range of explanatory variables, we see that all the objective
measures of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and state assis-
tance show no significant relationship with anger over unemploy-
ment. However, the results do suggest that the more interpretive
components of poverty do have a relationship with this negative emo-
tion. Those who feel more deprived relative to others and express
more monetary dissatisfaction also express more anger over their
unemployment. Further, it appears that those with a greater com-
mitment to employment are more likely to express anger over their
unemployment. Those who reported a stronger work ethic and
reported looking for work more regularly also reported more anger.
Moreover, contrary to expectations, it was those who felt that they
lacked the proper qualifications to gain employment, or made an
internal attribution for unemployment, that reported greater anger.
External attributions, deviant peers, and deviant values had no
impact on the level of anger reported by the youths, nor did gender
or race, and the effect of age was mediated by the inclusion of all of
the other variables.

An examination of the interaction effects revealed three significant

coefficients. First, length of unemployment was associated with
lower levels of anger when youths expressed internal attributions
for their unemployment. Second, the length of unemployment was
associated with higher levels of anger when youths attributed the
cause of their unemployment to external sources. Third, those
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 415

youths who had deviant peers and who made external attributions for
their unemployment were more likely to report anger at their situation
of unemployment. Thus, while not significant at the lower-order level,
unemployment, deviant peers, and external attributions are important
predictors of anger when included as part of interaction terms. In
other words, these variables have an impact on anger when they are
either conditioned by or condition other variables.

Predicting Crime

Model 1 in Table 3 reveals that unemployment has a direct effect on

property crime when examined without the other explanatory vari-
ables. Model 2, however, suggests that this impact is mediated when
all the other explanatory variables are added to the model. When the
full models are examined, we see that property crime is associated

Table 3: OLS regression predicting property crime

B (b)a B (b) B (b)

Age .086 (.195) .104 (.235) .090 (.203)

.122 .111 .128
Gender .045 (.102) .002 (.004) .008 (.018)
.121 .118 .117
Minority .015 (.033) .048 (.109) .058 (.131)
.114 .109 .109
Unemployment .141 (.318) .050 (.113) .051 (.116)
.113 .120 .119
Length No Fixed Address ^ .135 (.307) .123 (.278)
.111 .111
State Assistance ^ .091 (.205) .091 (.206)
.115 .114
Relative Deprivation ^ .073 (.165) .080 (.181)
.108 .107
Monetary Dissatisfaction ^ .129 (.292) .137 (.310)
.112 .112
Unemployment Internal Attribution ^ .034 (.077) .035 (.079)
.119 .119
Unemployment External Attribution ^ .056 (.126) .057 (.130)
.115 .114
Job Stability ^ .041 (.092) .039 (.088)
.128 .127
Job Search ^ .020 (.045) .018 (.042)
.118 .118

(Continued )
416 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

Table 3: Continued
B (b)a B (b) B (b)

Work Ethic ^ .051 (.115) .042 (.096)

.115 .115
Certainty ^ .149 (.338) .159 (.363)
.117 .117
Severity ^ .081 (.183) .079 (.180)
.113 .112
Deviant Values ^ .211 (.478) .200 (.453)
.122 .122
Deviant Peers ^ .149 (.334) .175 (.394)
.108 .111
Anger ^ .019 (.043) .025 (.057)
.119 .116
Deviant Peers  Deviant Values ^ ^ .103 (.230)
R2 .027 .208 .217
N 399 391 391

Sig .05 one-tailed test

Sig .01 one-tailed test

Sig .05 two-tailed test

Sig .01 two-tailed test

B standardized coefficient; (b) unstandardized coefficient; SE standard error of
unstandardized coefficient

with longer periods of homelessness, lack of state assistance, and

monetary dissatisfaction. Those who reported deviant values and
deviant peers also reported more property offending. Further, those
who indicated that they perceived the certainty of punishment to
be low also indicated greater involvement in property offending.
Anger over unemployment, however, was not significantly related
to property offending. Tests for interactions revealed that property
crime was more likely to take place when these youths were immersed
in a deviant subculture. The interaction between deviant peers and
deviant values was a significant predictor of property crime.

An examination of the first model in Table 4 shows that unemploy-

ment had no direct effect on violent crime when entered into an
equation with only the demographic variables. Instead, violence was
associated with age and gender. The second model reveals, however,
that anger over unemployment is associated with violent crime. This
second model also reveals that relative deprivation and monetary
dissatisfaction, rather than the more objective measures of poverty,
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 417

Table 4: OLS regression predicting violence

B (b)a B (b) B (b) B (b)

Age .162 (.226) .213 (.298) .208 (.291) .199 (.279)

.074 .079 .078 .079
Gender .200 (.279) .164 (.230) .161 (.225) .170 (.238)
.074 .073 .064 .072
Minority .034 (.047) .057 (.080) .055 (.078) .066 (.093)
.070 .067 .067 .067
Unemployment .046 (.064) .009 (.013) .018 (.026) .008 (.011)
.069 .074 .074 .074
Length No ^ .032 (.046) .036 (.051) .020 (.028)
Fixed Address .068 .068 .068
State Assistance ^ .083 (.116) .073 (.102) .083 (.112)
.071 .071 .070
Relative Deprivation ^ .125 (.176) .119 (.168) .132 (.186)
.066 .066 .066
Monetary ^ .082 (.115) .070 (.098) .090 (.126)
Dissatisfaction .069 .069 .069
Unemployment ^ .041 (.058) .041 (.058) .040 (.057)
Internal Attribution .074 .073 .073
Unemployment ^ .015 (.020) .021 (.029) .013 (.018)
External Attribution .071 .071 .070
Job Stability ^ .058 (.082) .054 (.076) .057 (.079)
.079 .078 .078
Job Search ^ .087 (.122) .091 (.128) .088 (.124)
.073 .073 .073
Work Ethic ^ .149 (.211) .160 (.227) .141 (.199)
.071 .071 .071
Certainty ^ .155 (.218) .150 (.212) .165 (.233)
.072 .072 .072
Severity ^ .083 (.116) .081 (.114) .081 (.114)
.070 .069 .069
Deviant Values ^ .137 (.192) .132 (.185) .126 (.177)
.075 .075 .075
Deviant Peers ^ .164 (.229) .179 (.249) .190 (.265)
.067 .067 .069
Anger ^ .092 (.128) .084 (.117) .086 (.120)
.073 .073 .073
Unemployment  ^ ^ .099 (.148) ^
Monetary .071
Peers  Values ^ ^ ^ .100 (.140)

(Continued )
418 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

Table 4: Continued
B (b)a B (b) B (b) B (b)

R2 .046 .218 .227 .227

N 399 391 391 391

Sig .05 one-tailed test

Sig .01 one-tailed test

Sig .05 two-tailed test

Sig .01 two-tailed test

B standardized coefficient; (b) unstandardized coefficient; SE standard error of
unstandardized coefficient

homelessness, and lack of state assistance, are related to violent crime,

although additional analysis revealed that anger mediated the effect
of state assistance. Further, having a strong work ethic and spending
less time looking for work were related to violent offending. This
model also reveals that those with deviant peers, deviant values,
and lower perceptions of certainty and severity of punishment
reported greater involvement in crime. Tests for interactions indi-
cated two significant relationships. First, unemployment had a greater
impact on violent crime at higher levels of monetary dissatisfaction.
Second, deviant peers and deviant values interacted to predict violent
crime. That is, having more deviant friends together with holding
deviant values encourages involvement in a greater number of violent

The first model in Table 5 indicates that unemployment has a signifi-

cant lower-order relationship with drug dealing, as does age. Model 2
shows that the addition of the other explanatory variables into the
equation mediates these relationships. Further, Model 2 shows that
youths reporting greater anger over their unemployment also reported
more drug dealing. Those not on state assistance and those who
expressed greater monetary dissatisfaction were also more likely to
be involved in drug distribution. Reduced job-seeking behaviour
was also related to dealing drugs. As with violent offences, lower
perceptions of certainty and severity of punishment, along with
having deviant peers and values contributed to selling illegal drugs.
Tests for interactions revealed two significant relationships.
Unemployment had a greater impact on drug dealing at lower levels
of job search activity. Further, unemployment was associated with
drug dealing at greater levels of monetary dissatisfaction. This sug-
gests that drug dealing is more likely when unemployed individuals
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 419

Table 5: OLS regression predicting drug sales

B (b)a B (b) B (b) B (b)

Age .106 (.402) .069 (.263) .074 (.281) .074 (.280)

.203 .213 .212 .213
Gender .055 (.207) .062 (.235) .063 (.238) .059 (.223)
.202 .197 .196 .196
Minority .041 (.156) .000 (.001) .007 (.026) .001 (.078)
.190 .182 .181 .181
Unemployment .124 (.470) .059 (.225) .068 (.261) .050 (.192)
.189 .200 .200 .200
Length No ^ .040 (.154) .043 (.163) .037 (.140)
Fixed Address .185 .184 .184
State Assistance ^ .091 (.345) .091 (.345) .082 (.310)
.192 .191 .192
Relative Deprivation ^ .046 (.174) .045 (.172) .041 (.155)
.180 .179 .180
Monetary ^ .094 (.356) .098 (.373) .083 (.315)
Dissatisfaction .188 .187 .188
Unemployment ^ .009 (.035) .006 (.021) .009 (.036)
Internal Attribution .200 .199 .199
Unemployment ^ .086 (.324) .082 (.312) .080 (.302)
External Attribution .192 .191 .191
Job Stability ^ .022 (.082) .026 (.098) .018 (.066)
.214 .213 .213
Job Search ^ .192 (.732) .205 (.782) .196 (.746)
.198 .198 .197
Work Ethic ^ .028 (.109) .020 (.078) .039 (.147)
.192 .191 .192
Certainty ^ .140 (.534) .145 (.554) .136 (.520)
.195 .194 .194
Severity ^ .090 (.343) .092 (.350) .088 (.337)
.189 .188 .188
Deviant Values ^ .162 (.616) .165 (.628) .157 (.598)
.204 .203 .204
Deviant Peers ^ .156 (.592) .155 (.588) .170 (.642)
.181 .180 .182
Anger ^ .120 (.454) .127 (.480) .112 (.426)
.198 .198 .073
Unemployment  ^ ^ .102 (.367) ^
Job Search .169
Unemployment  ^ ^ ^ .091 (.368)
Monetary .192

(Continued )
420 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

Table 5: Continued
B (b)a B (b) B (b) B (b)

R2 .034 .218 .227 .225

N 400 391 391 391

Sig .05 one-tailed test

Sig .05 two-tailed test

Sig .01 one-tailed test

Sig .01 two-tailed Test

B standardized coefficient; (b) unstandardized coefficient; SE standard error of
unstandardized coefficient

have stopped looking for employment and when they are extremely
unhappy with their monetary situation.


This work has extended research on unemployment and crime by

using the GST to help examine interpretive factors that enhance our
understanding of the complex relationship between unemployment
and crime. The results suggest that unemployment does have a
direct effect on property crime and drug dealing that is mediated by
other explanatory variables. The bulk of the impact of unemployment
on crime is felt indirectly through the negative emotional reaction
it generates in the form of anger, and more strongly directly where
its impact on crime is conditioned by monetary dissatisfaction. This
indirect relationship is complex in the sense that the anger over
unemployment is not the direct result of the unemployment experi-
ence itself. Instead, anger emerges only among those who attribute
the cause of their unemployment to external sources and who do
not attribute their unemployment to personal deficiencies. Further,
these important external attributions are influenced by ones peer
group. Thus, without core attributional components and peer net-
works, unemployment would not lead to anger. But anger over
unemployment is not only the result of not having a job. Anger over
unemployment is also the result of subjective interpretations of
economic circumstances, ones commitment to the labour market,
and how one assigns blame for unemployment. Feelings of relative
deprivation and monetary dissatisfaction along with high levels of job
searching without success, and perceptions of deficient qualifications
while holding fast to a strong work ethic, act together to generate
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 421

anger at the circumstances of prolonged unemployment. In turn,

anger over unemployment predicts two out of the three types of
crime examined (violent crime and drug dealing).

The strong direct link between unemployment and crime is also

complex. First, the findings suggest unemployment is more likely
to have an impact on crime when people are unhappy with their
monetary situation. Thus, the subjective interpretation of ones
economic condition when unemployed is vital. This economic dis-
satisfaction is also a consistent predictor of crime by itself, reaching
significance in all three equations. Further, relative deprivation
another subjective measure of deprivation emerged as an important
predictor of violent crime. However, unemployment also appears
to have a greater impact on certain offences, such as drug dealing,
when people have dropped out of the labour market. The direction
of causality may be questioned here. It may be that continued failed
job searches lead youths to search out work in what are seen as more
lucrative deviant service sectors, or perhaps success in these alter-
native activities leads one to stop looking for work and to prolong
the duration of unemployment.

It also appears that more objective measures of deprivation associated

with the unemployment experience rather than unemployment itself
have a stronger direct link to crime. The lack of state support was
associated with crime in two cases (property crime and drug dealing),
and its effect was mediated by anger in the third (violent crime). This
finding is consistent with past aggregate level work, which has
demonstrated that state support can decrease crime (see DeFronzo
1983, 1996, 1997; Hannon and DeFronzo 1998). Furthermore, home-
lessness also emerged as a predictor of property offending.

The findings also suggest that having a strong commitment to paid

work that is frustrated through prolonged bouts of unemployment can
lead to crime. Having a strong work ethic leads indirectly to violent
and drug crime through its effect on anger and has a direct effect on
violent crime. Further, those who searched actively for employment
but were persistently rebuffed were more likely to be angry, and this
led to violent crime and drug dealing. At the same time, those who
have given up searching for employment are more likely to become
involved in violent offending and drug dealing. The findings on job
searches may be interpreted from a strain perspective or a control
perspective, depending on where this variable appears significant in
the causal process, and may also be a reflection of behavioural change
422 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

across time. It may be that, earlier in the unemployment experience,

people continue to look for work and are angry and react with crime.
Over time, however, they detach from the labour market and their
behaviour is more understandable from a social control perspective.
Or there may be two different types of people on the street who are
unemployed: those who were attached to society and frustrated by
their inability to succeed, and those who were never attached and
commit crime as a result of their lack of social control (see Elliott
et al. 1979). Thus, there may be more than one causal pathway.

The findings also suggest that the lack of participation in the

labour market combined with homelessness leaves youths to become
absorbed in an environment where contact with and attachment to
conventional society are decreased, leaving youths at even greater
risk for involvement in criminal activities. The findings suggest that
peers and values have an impact on all forms of crime, and these
interact to predict violent and property offending. In other words,
the street provides access to criminal peers who provide pressure
for, and support in, carrying out criminal activities. It is likely that,
as time progresses, street youth restrict their interactions to others
who spend their time predominantly on the street peers who are
seriously criminally inclined and who support and facilitate crimi-
nal pursuits. These friendship networks coalesce among youths with
similar life situations who may be caught up in and supporting the
street lifestyle.

Further, these youths appear not to fear the threat of legal punish-
ments. Living on the margins of society for long periods of time,
lacking shelter, and being angry and dissatisfied about their economic
condition leaves these youths fear of apprehension diminished and
their perceptions of the severity of punishment undermined. It may
be prior punishment experience as well as the experience of peers
that contributes to this lack of fear (see Stafford and Warr 1993).
Together, these perceptions of punishment allow these youths to
engage in crime to satisfy their needs, although these perceptions
do not influence the impact of unemployment on crime.

A limitation of the current research is that these data were cross-

sectional by design. Thus, current emotional reactions, perceptions
of deprivation, and punishment were correlated with past criminal
behaviour. It may be that participation in crime increased anger
over unemployment, drove up perceptions of deprivation, and
strengthened monetary dissatisfaction, while decreasing perceptions
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 423

regarding the odds of apprehension and the severity of punishment.

Further, participation in crime could have led to increased asso-
ciation with criminal peers and the adoption of values supportive
of criminal behaviour. While the longitudinal research that suggests
that both strain and offending are relatively consistent and stable
across time provides some reassurance for the results here (Agnew
1989; Mosher et al. 2002), future research is still required to verify
these findings.

Further, the results of this work cannot be generalized beyond

the street youth population. Hagan and McCarthy (1997) note that
research using street samples is important in that it can determine
the causal processes linked to their criminal behaviour. The findings
from these samples can then be utilized to make decisions about
future research to verify findings in broader populations. They note
that neither street or non-street samples by themselves will be able
to provide the information required to understand crime. Thus, future
work is required using broader or comparative samples to see how
the findings here apply to others who are unemployed but not on the

The use of the general strain perspective has allowed us to extend

the previous research on street youth, unemployment, and crime in
a number of ways. First, the theory pointed to the need to include
a number of variables not included in prior analyses. The focus on
subjective strains, like relative deprivation and monetary dissatisfac-
tion, outlined in the general strain theory encouraged us to go beyond
the traditional measures of financial status and length of unemploy-
ment. The theory also directed us to the importance of including
social control variables like work ethic and actual job searching that
go beyond determining lifetime job totals and a simple desire for
employment. The theory also provided guidance on the need to
include perceptions of punishment risk, which has been overlooked
in past work. Further, while prior research stressed the importance of
external attributions, it did not focus on the importance of internal
attributions included here. Thus, the current research has been able
to include a number of variables identified by general strain theory
that have been overlooked in past research on street youth unemploy-
ment and crime, examine them together in an analysis to control for
all their various influences, and determine that all of these variables
play a central role in understanding the nature of unemployments
relationship with crime.
424 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

Second, the current work, guided by GST, has explored a more com-
plex causal path between street youth unemployment and crime
than has previous research. While past research acknowledged the
importance of anger, it did not explore its mediating role between
unemployment and crime, and, unlike past work using situational
measures of anger, was able to show the important relationship
between this emotion and some forms of criminal activity. Further,
the GST enabled the current work to explore for the first time how
a wide range of subjective and objective strains, internal and external
explanations for unemployment, and cultural and social supports
can lead to anger over unemployment. Moreover, unlike other
research, this allowed for an investigation of how these variables con-
dition unemployments impact on anger and unemployments rela-
tionship with crime. The GST has also shed light into the important
social influences of peers and the way they can sway causal attribu-
tions for unemployment and how this can generate anger. Likewise,
the analysis advanced our understanding by directing us to the
important interactive role of peers and culture in creating crime,
allowing us to move beyond the traditional examination of their
separate influences. In sum, by using general strain theory to identify
additional important variables, establish a more complex causal
process involving anger as a mediating variable, and outline a series
of moderating effects not previously examined, this research has
significantly broadened our understanding of the nature of the rela-
tionship between unemployment and crime in the street youth

This research allows us to implicate the connection and interaction

between objective labour market conditions and peoples perceptions
of their experiences to their emotional reactions, which has not been
accomplished previously. In turn this enables us to demonstrate
how together these objective, subjective, and emotional factors foster
criminal behaviour. This approach helps to explain why people,
who at first glance appear to share the common experiences of unem-
ployment, do not react in the same fashion in response to their
conditions. There are variations in these adverse conditions that influ-
ence peoples interpretations of, and emotional reactions toward, their
circumstances, and it is these differences and the way they are
contextualized by actors that lead to criminal behaviour.

Future work would do well to continue the exploration between the

labour market and peoples reactions to it, utilizing both conventional
and at risk populations. It might explore further why some actors
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 425

react with anger and dissatisfaction, perceive injustice, or blame others

for their conditions. It would also seem appropriate to examine differ-
ences between certain groups and their reactions to unemployment.
For example, Agnew (2006) has outlined how race, gender, and age
are related to forms of strain that will affect crime. He notes that
there may be racial differences in exposure to strains conducive to
crime, such as chronic unemployment and work in the secondary
labour market. He argues, however, that the relationship between
race and crime will be diminished if we take into account some of
the socio-economic factors examined in this study. Nevertheless,
he suggests that we must also take into account other strains con-
ducive to crime not included here, including discrimination in the
labour market and other sites, which he argues increase the likelihood
that strains will be attributed to the deliberate acts of others, strength-
ening perceptions that the strain is unjust. The findings here showed
that being of minority status was not associated with levels of offend-
ing, but there may still be differences in emotional reactions, economic
dissatisfaction and perceptions of deprivation, and the way that these
affect crime may vary across groups.

Agnew (2006; see also Broidy and Agnew 1997) has also outlined
how males and females may place different emphases on economic
strains, have dissimilar emotional reactions in response to strain,
and be differentially exposed to moderating factors like peers and
values that can lead to criminal coping strategies. He also argues,
however, that the causal process for males and females will be similar
if they experience strain similarly, respond with like emotions, and
encounter comparable conditioning factors. The results here show
that gender was associated with levels of violent crime but not
anger, property offending, or drug dealing. The effect, however, was
not mediated to any large degree when other variables were added
to the analysis, suggesting that something beyond strain explains
the relationship between gender and violence. Baron (2007), working
with a street youth sample, found few gender differences in exposure
to economic strain, perceptions of deprivation, or emotional reactions
in response to the strain, and discovered that these variables tended
to predict crime similarly for both males and females. He did find,
nevertheless, that there were gender differences in the impact of some
of the interaction effects.

Agnew (2006) has also suggested that adolescents are subject to more
strain than adults, have fewer coping mechanisms available to deal
with their strain in a non-criminal manner, and are more likely to
426 Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice July 2008

respond to strain with crime. He also outlines, however, that adults,

particularly those in the urban underclass, experience a great deal
of subjective and objective economic strain that is conducive to their
involvement in crime. Evidence suggests that while employment can
reduce criminal earnings of all age groups (Uggen and Thompson
2003) it may be more important as youths age and begin to move
into their twenties (see Uggen 2000). The findings here suggest
younger street youths were more associated with violent crime, but
older youths were more likely to be angry about their unemployment
and to deal drugs, and these later relationships were mediated
when other variables were entered into the models. This suggests
that the effect of unemployment may vary with age, and further
work should explore how age affects emotional reactions and inter-
pretations leading to criminal responses.

Strategies to explore the differential impact of these demographic

factors would include gathering large enough samples to ensure an
adequate number of cases to examine the range of variables explored
here, together in a comparative multivariate analysis where differ-
ences could be assessed through coefficient comparison tests (see
Paternoster, Brame, Mazerolle, and Piquero 1998). Altogether, this
type of integrative and comparative work would allow researchers
to map commonalities and to establish the differences between
these groups of homeless and their responses to conditions of


1. The author acknowledges the financial support of the Social Sciences

and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Queens
University Chancellors Research Award.

2. Agnew (2001) has also outlined how other background experiences of

homeless youth, including victimization in the home, may affect their
behaviour. However, Hagan and McCarthy (1997; see also McCarthy
and Hagan 1992) found that while these background and developmental
variables were vital in understanding why these youths are on the
street, their effect on crime was mediated by measures of current
economic adversity that had the direct effects on crime. Since the
focus of this research is on current economic adversity we have not
included background factors, recognizing that they are important in
understanding how youths end up on the street.
Street Youth, Unemployment, and Crime 427

3. Those who agreed were supplied with informed consent forms outlining
study goals and their rights within the interview. Subjects were told they
were not obliged to answer any of the questions and could withdraw
from the interview at any time. None of the youths exercised this power.

4. Some readers may be concerned about the reliability and validity of

data gathered in this population through the use of surveys. Hagan
and McCarthy (1997), using a similar approach, provide evidence that
street youth provide reliable and valid responses to the types of questions
used here (see also Calsyn, Allen, Morse, Smith, and Tempelhoof 1993).

5. Aboriginals are drastically over-represented in the sample. According to

Peters and Murphy (1993) only about one per cent of the youths in the
city schools are Native. We cannot determine, however, if the percentage
of minority youth is representative of those on the street, since traditional
social science techniques of sampling from an exhaustive list of eligible
participants where various parameters are already known is impossible.

6. Scales were created by summing the response scores across items and
then dividing the scores by the number of items. Cronbachs alpha was
then calculated to determine the validity of each scale.

7. As a general rule, the higher the alpha coefficient the better. Carmines
and Zellers (1979) suggest that reliabilities for widely used scales should
not be below .80. They do admit, however, that the alpha is a conservative
test for reliability. Garrett (1966) point out that the size of the reliability
coefficient required depends on the size and variability of the group.
They argue that in some cases a reliability coefficient need be no higher
than .50 or .60. The more heterogeneous the group the higher the reli-
ability coefficient needed. The measure just reported and those that
follow are between .62 and .68 and thus should be explored with some
caution. However, the sample, while certainly containing variation, is
atypical and probably somewhat more homogenous than other popu-
lations sampled in social sciences. They are restricted by age, housing
status, and other study-imposed parameters. Thus, we believe that with
caution we can make descriptive explorations and initial predictive
modelling using these measures.

8. The GST also outlines that anger may mediate the impact of strain. The
equations predicting crime were first run without anger included,
to examine if any of the variables that significantly predicted anger sig-
nificantly predicted the dependent variables. The equations were then
run with anger included, to see if the impact of any of these variables
428 Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice penale juillet 2008

was reduced to non-significance. This proved not to be the case in any

of the three models. However, in the model predicting violent crime,
state assistance predicted crime when anger was not in the model and
became non-significant when anger was added to the model.


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