Violent crime fell in America last year, the first full year of the recession, according to new data from the FBI. Auto theft and other property crime also was down despite the recession, although burglary was up.

In general, the social science literature has indicated a correlation between unemployment rates and property crime rates. Violent crimes, though, appear to be unaffected by joblessness rates. Although there appears to be an association between property crime and unemployment, the fact remains that the decision to commit a crime is a choice.

For most of us, the loss of a job will not provoke us to steal from our neighbors.

In a previous post, I noted the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ new National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) showed crime declined in 2008. The FBI data are based upon crimes officially reported to police departments across the nation; the NCVS data are based on a nationally representative survey. One key distinction is that the NCVS includes crimes that were not reported.

Some details of the FBI data on violent crime:

• The overall rate dropped from 466.9 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2007 to 454.5 incidents in 2008—a decrease of 2.7 percent.
• Murder fell from 5.6 incidents per 100,000 to 5.4 incidents—a decrease of 3.6 percent.
• Rape dropped from 30 incidents per 100,000 to 29.3—a decrease of 2.3 percent.
• Robbery was down from 147.6 incidents per 100,000 to 145.3 —a decrease of 1.6 percent.
• Aggravated assault dropped from 283.8 incidents to 274.6 incidents—a decrease of 3.2 percent.

The FBI data show a less consistent trend for property crime:

• The overall rate dropped from 3,263.5 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2007 to 3,212.5 incidents last year—a decrease of 1.6 percent.
• Burglary increased from 722.5 incidents per 100,000 to 730.8—an increase of 1.1 percent.
• Motor vehicle theft dropped from 363.3 incidents per 100,000 to 314.7—a decrease of 13.4 percent.
• Larceny dipped only slightly from 2,177.8 incidents per 100,000 to 2,167—a decrease of 0.5 percent.