Bank Robbers and Structural Unemployment

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 29, 2012    •    630 Views

The number of bank robberies is plunging. Maybe it’s outsourcing…just like manufacturing?

During 2011, the number of bank robberies declined to a 9-year trough of close to 5000. The reason, according to one analyst, is technology.

As we spend more online and swipe more at Starbucks and elsewhere, we need less currency. Consequently, bank tellers need less cash. The result? Less to rob. A typical bank robbery now nets $8623. Three to five years ago, the total was between 10 and 15 thousand dollars. Maybe hacking, a more lucrative approach, is taking over the trade.

Our Bottom Line: Just like manufacturing, the skills needed for a successful bank heist are shifting. Economists might characterize the trend as structural unemployment. With jobs digitizing, the fundamental structure of the U.S. economy is changing. Whether it’s jobless buggy whip makers when the auto took over or unemployed typewriter workers because of computers, structural unemployment demands new skills.

Similarly, the skills needed by a successful bank robber or lower level assembly line worker have been replaced.

You can see some interesting data from the FBI on bank robberies here. Looking at the numbers, I wondered why Connecticut and Texas had a disproportionately high number of bank robberies. Also, Monday is the least typical day for a heist. For the analyst who formed the hypothesis about declining bank robberies, here is a Bloomberg interview from their “Weird Wall Street” series. And finally, for an historical summary of the structural changes in manufacturing, this Economist article on “The Third Industrial Revolution” was good.

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