Unemployment and Crime Essay

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Northern Mexico is notorious for high crime as a result of inequality (Enamorado et al., 2016). Drawing on empirical evidence of the link between education and crime reduction (Jonck et al., 2015; Chioda et al. 2016), the vision of this project is to reduce crime among adolescents, by increasing upper secondary school attendance, improving the quality of learning, and increasing completion rates of upper secondary school. To achieve these objectives, a two-pronged approach comprising a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program and a school-based management system will be implemented over three years in the targeted area.


The narratives around education, cash transfers, school governance, and crime in Mexico are varied and at times contradictory. Mexico, a middle-income country and member of the OECD (Source, year OECD, 2014) has been lauded for its cash transfer and school governance programs (Corona and Gammage, 2017, Parker, 2017, World Bank, 2017), which have been replicated around the world, crime and inequality in Mexico persist (Enamorado, 2016; Leenen and Cervantes-Trejo, 2014; World Bank, 2013). Mexico’s extreme poverty rates have fallen only 2 percentage points between 1992 and 2012. At 14% in 2012, raters were more than double those of Brazil, a country that experienced a far greater decline in poverty levels (Troyano and Martin, 2017).

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In a 2016 study, Enamorado et al. found a link between income inequity and violent crime in the period of Mexico’s drug war. The authors demonstrate that a one-point increment in the Gini coefficient between 2007 and 2010 results in a 36% increase in the number of drug-related homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This project seeks to address inequality, and thereby crime, in Mexico by investing in education.

A considerable breadth of literature has examined the links between education, inequality, and crime. Notably, Lochner and Morretti (2004) study the impact of crime and education, finding that a 1% increase in the proportion of male students in the USA reduces youth crime by around 1.9%. The arguments for education can be classified into these broad, related, categories; education promotes social cohesion, education increases income, and education reduces unemployment.

The role of education in strengthening social cohesion by promoting respect for diverse social groups and fostering participation is highlighted by Novelli et al. (2015). Redo (2008) posits that education leads to crime reduction due to the increased belief in the state that results from a positive experience of schooling. Tendetnik et al. (2018) expand on this argument, demonstrating that mass primary and secondary education seemingly acts to mitigate state fragility. Thyne (2006, cited in Redo, 2008) points out that education gives people tools with which they can resolve disputes peacefully. In a large-scale statistical analysis of the determinants of civil war, Thyne finds that increases from 1 standard deviation below to 1 standard deviation above the mean for primary enrollment, educational expenditure, adult literacy, and secondary male enrollment decreased the probability of civil war onset between 43% and 73%.

Beyond the important role education plays in fostering the social contract, education is critical to increasing employment and income, and thereby reducing inequality. Educational inequality, as measured by skill inequality, is positively correlated with violent crime and political unrest (Green et al., 2006). Decreased access to secondary and tertiary education is linked with frustration and unemployment among youth, making them more susceptible to crime or violence (World Bank, 2005). Ellis and Walsh (2005, cited in Redo, 2008) synthesize 80 studies from Europe, North America, and other countries to show a correlation between crime and unemployment. Thorbecke and Charumilind find that inequality of income positively impacts crime rates (2002). Breton (2013) demonstrates that the marginal return on investment in schooling is more than 50% for the least educated countries. Several studies deal specifically with the socioeconomic outcomes of education in developing countries. Rates of return for education on workers in Thailand were found to be between 14 and 16%, demonstrating the ability of education to improve incomes (Warunsiri and McNown, 2010). Psacharopoulos studies rates of return to education around the world and affirms that continent-wide aggregate social and private rates of returns are significant (cited in Bennell, 1996). The rollout of universal primary education (UPA) in Uganda is regarded as a strong tool in redressing inequality and reducing poverty levels (Nakabugo, 2008). Further, Keats finds that the implementation of UPA in Uganda has downstream impacts on labor market outcomes and household wealth (2018). For these reasons, this project focuses on improving educational outcomes in northern Mexico.

Summary of the case

In a study of education and crime engagement in South Africa, Jonck et al. conclude that crime rates are positively correlated with a dichotomized society and levels of social marginalization (2015). They find that the central reasons for violence are unemployment and income inequality and recommend investments aimed at increasing upper secondary school completion rates (completing grade 12). Most of the incarcerated surveyed in the study had a medium level of education, with 46% of those incarcerated for economic crimes and 47% of those for contact crimes having only completed primary school. In the inverse, being highly educated (completion of grade 12 and above) decreased the likelihood of being incarcerated. Using lessons learned in South Africa, this project targets upper secondary school completion as a means to reduce crime in northern Mexico.

Project Objectives and Vision

This project has the ultimate vision of thriving communities in Northern Mexico that are free from crime, in which every young person can complete school and access employment.

The project objectives are to:

    1. Increase upper secondary school attendance by increasing the number of households in targeted regions of northern Mexico receiving conditional cash transfers.
    2. Improve the quality of learning in targeted schools of northern Mexico by implementing a school-based management system.
    3. Increase completion rates of students in targeted upper secondary schools of northern Mexico by improving the quality of learning and supporting poor families to consistently enable adolescents to attend school through conditional cash transfers.
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