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Crime and legal work are not mutually exclusive choices but represent a continuum of legal and illegal income-generating activities. The links between crime and legal work involve trade-offs among crime returns, punishment costs, legal work opportunity costs, and tastes and preferences regarding both types of work. Rising crime rates in the 1980s in the face of rising incarceration rates suggest that the threat of punishment is not the dominant cost of crime. Crime rates are inversely related to expected legal wages, particularly among young males with limited job skills or prospects. Recent ethnographic research shows that involvement in illegal work often is motivated by low wages and harsh conditions in legal work. Many criminal offenders "double up" in both legal work and crime, either concurrently or sequentially. This overlap suggests a fluid and dynamic interaction between legal and illegal work. Market wages and job opportunities interact with social and legal pressures to influence decisions to abandon crime for legal work. Explanations of the patterns of legal and illegal work should be informed by econometric, social structural, and labeling theories. The continuity of legal and illegal work suggests the importance of illegal wages in research and theory on criminal decision making.


Criminal Law | Labor and Employment Law | Law | Law and Society


© 1999 The University of Chicago. Originally published in Crime & Justice, Vol. 25, p. 225, 1999.