CRIME RATE IS ALL DEMOGRAPHICS: WHAT WENT UP MUST COME DOWN

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The crime rate is down, and nobody is very sure why. "Reason for dramatic drop in crime puzzles the experts," reads the headline in The New York Times.

"Crime has declined dramatically for six years, but new studies prepared for a national conference of academic experts on crime suggest that criminologists are no closer now to understanding the reasons than when the downturn was first detected," the Times reported.

But if the experts knew anything about demographics (a subject marketing people should study closely but also seem to ignore), they wouldn't seem so clueless.

Nine years ago, our publishing company's senior VP-international, Joe Cappo, wrote a book called "Futurescope: Success Strategies for the 1990s and beyond." In it, he predicted that unemployment would drop mainly because the number of teen-age workers looking for jobs is estimated to be 20% lower than it was in 1975.

"Many demographers are predicting a substantial shortage of workers for virtually every business and industry . . . The competition for college graduates will heat up considerably in the next couple of years. The number of college graduates will start to decline while corporations are creating a greater number of jobs that require a college education," Joe stated in his book.

Joe's thesis is that many of the factors that affect our economy and our lives are "eminently predictable. But so many decision makers in government, education and business and every other field of endeavor don't take the trouble to look into the future, Joe says in his Crain's Chicago Business column.

We tend to project what's happening to us now into the future, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that circumstances will be different. For instance, the El Ni¤o effect has produced a very mild winter in much of the country this year. But as investor Jimmy Rogers pointed out on CNBC the other day, "There will be a winter next year," meaning that the normal cold weather will return. So he is betting that the price of oil, now at historic lows, will rise in anticipation of colder days ahead. People get rich thinking of things like this -- remind me to buy snow shovel futures.

Joe points to demographic trends to show why beer sales are down: The same shortage of college graduates means there's fewer people in the age group that drinks the most beer.

"What does the average beer company do when its sales drop? It changes ad agencies. That makes sense . . . but only if it finds an ad agency that can increase the number of beer drinkers in the country. If I owned a beer company, I would spend at least some of my promotional dollars to market my brand to the 40-and-older market, which is the fastest-growing age group in the country," Joe says.

But that is precisely what the beer companies are not doing. They continue to pound away at a shrinking market with ad messages that older consumers can't even begin to fathom. Some, like the idiotic Miller Lite spots, are probably alienating most potential beer drinkers except for their contracting target market.

Once you've taken a close look at the numbers, it's easy to see what's taken a bite out of crime. Joe points out the crime rate is down simply because the number of people in the 18-to-34 age group is down. "These folks commit 60% or more of the crime in the nation, compared with the 55-and-older crowd, for example, that commits only 2.4%," Joe explains.

But that doesn't stop the politicians from falling all over each other to take credit for the good news on crime. But as Joe says, "If you ever have a politician tell you he is responsible for a lower crime rate, ask him the simple question: `How did you singlehandedly manage to lower the country's birth rate back in the 1970s?' "

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