School & District Management

School Shootings Linked to Higher Unemployment Rates, Study Says

By Evie Blad — January 30, 2017 1 min read
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School shootings are more frequent when the unemployment rate rises, researchers at Northwestern University say in a new study.

The researchers compiled a database of 381 shootings that occurred at K-12 schools and on higher education campuses between 1990-2013, comparing their frequency to various economic indicators.

The study, “Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools,” was published this week in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. It finds an increased frequency of shootings that loosely aligns with the most recent U.S. recession:

“Using this dataset, we find that the rate of gun violence is time-dependent and that this rate is heightened from 2007 to 2013. We further find that periods of increased shooting rates are significantly correlated with increases in the unemployment rate across different geographic aggregation levels (national, regional and city). Consistent with the hypothesis that increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition contributes to school shootings, we find that multiple indicators of economic distress significantly correlate with increases in the rate of gun violence when events at both K12 and post-secondary schools are considered.”

The shootings researchers tracked were not necessarily mass shootings. They compiled several databases, including all intentional or accidental firearm discharges that occurred on a school campus and included “students or school employees, either as perpetrators, bystanders or victims.”

The graph below, pulled from the report, shows school shooting incidents in blue bars and the national unemployment rate as a black line.

“The unemployment rate is particularly of interest, since it is a single aggregate statistic that captures the difficulties faced by older students in the school-to-work transition or by students’ families,” the study says. “Joblessness is related to lowered self-esteem, diminished status and detrimental behaviour. There is also evidence that minors may be responsive to the unemployment of their parents and that the attitudes of youths have a significant impact on their future employment prospects and earnings. We posit that gun violence at schools is a response, in part, to the breakdown in the expectation that sustained participation in the educational system will improve economic opportunities and outcomes.”

You can read more about the study’s methodology here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.