Some influential social theories predict a strong link between criminal punishment and unemployment rates, but the research usually paints a more complicated picture. The picture above, taken from a new article with Ryan King and Mike Massoglia, doesn’t seem so complicated by comparison. I won’t belabor all the details, but one basic idea was to ask whether the United States deported more people for criminal behavior when unemployment was on the rise. Sure enough, unemployment and criminal deportation tracked each other very closely from about 1941 to 1986 (since 1987, deportations have more closely tracked the steep rise in incarceration). The chart shows year-to-year changes in each measure, with the spikes in deportation (the solid line) corresponding to similar spikes in unemployment (the dashed line). Of course, no picture is that simple; there’s always a real danger that such correlations could be due to chance or to factors we failed to consider. At minimum, though, a picture like this could make it a little tougher to dismiss the old idea that punishment might have something to do with economic conditions.