Encyclopedia of Security and Emergency Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Lauren R. Shapiro, Marie-Helen Maras

Criminals: Blue-Collar Crimes

  • Hua-Lun HuangEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69891-5_113-1


Survival-oriented crime Expressive offense Instrumental Offense Social inequality 


Blue-collar criminals tend to be from low income homes and their crimes involve physical or violent interactions. Since this population is constantly facing inadequate economic resources to satisfy their needs, they perpetrate blue-collar crimes in the context of economic pressure, financial need, or impoverishment.


In criminology and criminal justice study, scholars usually agree that crimes can be committed by people of different social classes. Blue-collar crimes are survival-oriented (i.e., the main purpose/motivation for people to commit these crimes is to solve the problems of economic hardship, livelihood crisis, or extreme poverty). Since these offenses are largely committed by low-income or lower-class individuals (i.e., persons who frequently face the challenges of financial difficulty, economic scarcity, or shortage of income), such misbehaviors are called blue-collar crimes (or crimes of accommodation).

When criminologists/sociologists are inspecting the relationship between demographic factors and blue-collar crimes, the factors and the crimes chosen for inspection always have to be specific and definite. Blue-collar crimes can be classified into three broad categories in criminology and sociology: property crime (e.g., arson, burglary, and shoplifting), violent crime (e.g., bank robbery, home invasion, and sexual assault), and organized crime (e.g., gang crime, human smuggling/trafficking, and illegal drug trading).

These categories, however, must be further classified so that criminologists and sociologists can perform research on blue-collar crime. Otherwise, the explanation or finding proposed by criminologists/sociologists may be invalid or unreliable because of design/ecological fallacy or other methodological problems (such as statistical error). In the next sections, the approach used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in classifying property and violent crimes will be summarized. Then different typologies of arson, sexual assault, and homicide will be specified. This review will serve as a basis for categorizing blue-collar crimes in this article.

Legal (or Official) Classification of Crimes: Uniform Crime Report

In terms of classifying crimes, the most important (as well as popular) nomenclature used by criminologists and law enforcement authorities undoubtedly is the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). It was developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1920s and 30s. According to this taxonomy, crimes can be classified into two principal categories – one is serious offense (i.e., Index crime), the other is petty crime.

Index crime includes two subcategories – one is violent (or interpersonal) crime, the other is property offense. Violent crime comprises four felonies: aggravated assault, forcible rape, robbery, and homicide. Likewise, property offense is composed of four felonies: arson, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.

Unlike Index crime which, almost without exceptions, involves heavy penalties like long prison sentences, offenses classified as petty crime (e.g., domestic abuse, shoplifting, simple assault, vandalism, violation of curfew, and so forth) usually can be settled through community services, fines, and/or other mild punishments. Partly because of this phenomenon, societal reaction to petty offenses usually is weak (or slow).

In a nutshell, the UCR was formulated by the FBI in the early twentieth century. As a result, it can be viewed as a standardized categorization system of crimes (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Offenses Categorized by the Uniform Crime Report

The Elaboration of Three Index Crimes: Arson, Rape, and Homicide

After the UCR has formally become a crime classification system in the 1970s, three Index offenses (i.e., arson, rape, and homicide) were elaborated by Douglas (who was a former FBI agent) and his colleagues in the early 1990s (see Douglas et al. 1997).

According to Douglas and his coworkers, arson can be instrumental (i.e., benefit-motivated) or expressive (i.e., emotion-driven). Instrumental arson includes, but is not limited to, six varieties: employment-related arson, survival-related arson, competition-related arson, insurance-related arson, inheritance-related arson, and crime concealment-related arson (especially, burglary-, larceny-, and murder-related arson).

Compared to instrumental arson (which may allow perpetrators to obtain enormous economic benefits, such as compensations offered by insurance companies), expressive arson provides offenders with an expedient outlet to relieve intense, uneasy, or troubled feelings (e.g., excitement, fury, hatred, jealousy, melancholy, and so on). It can be vandalism-related arson, attention seeking-motivated arson, hero arson, revenge-caused arson, extremist ideology-motivated arson, sexual arson, and serial arson.

Like arson, Douglas and his colleagues (1997) also divide sexual assault into two main categories. The instrumental one refers to those rape cases that take place in the context of sex slavery or searching for economic profits. For example, in criminal enterprise rape, sex traffickers can continually acquire pecuniary rewards if the victims they control persistently sell sex to customers (this trade is, of course, involuntary for the victim for they will be sexually assaulted by strangers again and again).

Besides criminal enterprise rape, both primary and secondary felony rapes are instrumental as well – the former refers to the situation that when someone (particularly young male) is perpetrating an Index crime like burglary, motor vehicle theft, or robbery, he accidentally finds an opportunity to commit sex crime. Like primary felony rape, secondary felony rape is also caused by profit-seeking behaviors. Nevertheless, this type of rape is premeditated for before perpetrating burglary, motor vehicle theft, or robbery, perpetrator has already had the intention to sexually assault any females he might encounter at the crime scene.

No matter whether primary felony rape is more common than secondary felony rape, expressive rape is, without doubt, far more diversified than instrumental one in pattern. This diversification can be clearly seen from the fact that at least 12 types of expressive rape are reviewed in Crime Classification Manual (CCM). They are social acquaintance rape (i.e., sexual assault perpetrated by acquaintances, which is most common among all types of rape), abduction rape, anger (or revenge-motivated) rape, domestic sexual assault, extremist ideology-motivated rape, group cause rape, power assertive rape, power reassurance rape, prison rape, religion- (or cult-) related rape, sadistic rape, and subordinate rape.

After classifying arson and rape from the angle of instrumental/economic or expressive/emotional motivation, Douglas and his associates (1997) do the same in CCM for homicide. According to this categorization, homicide can be instrumental manslaughter (i.e., murdering someone for money) or expressive killing (i.e., slaying someone because of emotional reasons). Instrumental homicide can be exemplified by seven types of homicidal behavior: contract killing, gang-related homicide, murder caused by criminal competition, insurance-related murder, inheritance-related murder, indiscriminate felony murder, and situational felony murder. In the commission of felony murder, the perpetrator has the intention to kill the victim or witness when committing an Index crime like burglary, motor vehicle theft, rape, or robbery. In the commission of situational felony murder, the perpetrator does not have the intention to kill the victim or witness when committing an Index crime; nevertheless, the victim or witness is still murdered because of a condition unanticipated by perpetrator.

Unlike instrumental homicide which is purely caused by the desire to obtain economic or financial benefits, expressive murder is far more complicated in motivation (i.e., it involves many noneconomic reasons or purposes like anxiety, anger, control, domination, fantasy, gender/racial bias, and so on). With this in mind, explaining this type of homicidal behavior is always a sophisticated process for criminologists and crime investigators.

In any event, expressive homicide basically originates from highly distressed, disturbed, or distraught feelings/emotions. According to the classification of CCM, it can be argument-triggered murder, authority killing, domestic homicide, group cause homicide, hero homicide, mercy homicide, revenge-related homicide, and sexual homicide. The various types of arson, rape, and homicide discussed above suggest that blue-collar crime is an extremely intricate concept for not only can it be divided into interpersonal and property offenses, it can be classified into instrumental and expressive misconducts as well.

Categories of Blue-Collar Crime: Some Examples

Based on the discussion above, it seems adequate to argue that both crime concealment-related arson (especially, burglary-, larceny-, and murder-related arson) and vandalism-related arson are some textbook examples of blue-collar crime. The reason for this is that according to studies and statistics (see Clinard et al. 1994; Frailing and Harper 2016; Holmes and Holmes 2009), both crime concealment-related arson (CCRA) and vandalism-related fire-setting (VRFS) are chiefly committed by people of blue-collar/low-income families in the context of economic dilemma, financial struggle, and/or hostility toward society.

Besides CCRA and VRFS, the following types of rape appear to be good examples of blue-collar crime as well:
  • Criminal enterprise rape (i.e., sexual assault involved by prostitution rings)

  • Primary felony rape (i.e., sexual assault committed by burglars, home intruders, or motor vehicle thieves as a result of chance)

  • Secondary felony rape (i.e., sexual assault committed by burglars, home intruders, or motor vehicle thieves because of premeditation)

  • Abduction rape (i.e., sexual assault perpetrated by abductors)

  • Group cause rape (especially sexual assault perpetrated by gang members)

  • Prison rape (i.e., sexual assault perpetrated by inmates, most of whom tend to come from working-class or lower-class families)

Finally, certain categories of homicide can also serve as model examples of blue-collar crime for in America, they were chiefly committed by low-income young males (see Holmes and Holmes 1994; Katz 1988). These homicidal behaviors include
  • Gang-related homicide (i.e., manslaughter committed by hostile street gangs for the purpose of controlling turf or an illegal business)

  • Indiscriminate felony murder (i.e., perpetrator has the intention to kill the victim or witness when committing an Index crime like burglary, motor vehicle theft, rape, or robbery)

  • Situational felony murder (i.e., perpetrator does not have the intention to kill the victim or witness when committing an Index crime; nevertheless, the victim or witness is still murdered because of a condition unanticipated by perpetrator)

  • Argument-triggered murder (i.e., homicide perpetrated by young people, particularly young males, who are at odds in a bar, tavern, public billiard room, strip club, or other places where conflicts between strangers can take place easily)

  • Domestic homicide (i.e., murder perpetrated by family members, especially members of low-income Black families)

All of the categories of arson, sexual assault, and homicide listed above indicate that blue- collar crime is a tremendously complicated theme in criminology for it involves many offenses that differ in choice structuring properties – some are violent and highly risky (e.g., bank robbery), some are nonviolent and “fairly safe” (e.g., credit card fraud), some require special skills and trainings (like professional burglary), while some are nonviolent, “fairly safe,” and do not entail expertise (e.g., shoplifting). Because of this complicity (see Table 1), it is obvious that researchers must clearly define their subject matter when addressing the issue of blue-collar crime.
Table 1

Some Representative categories of blue-collar crime


Property crime

Violent crime

Organized crime

Instrumental Offense

[Main function: helping blue-collar workers/low-income people cope with economic stress or financial dilemma]


Burglary-related arson

 Larceny-related arson

 Murder-related arson


 Criminal enterprise rape

 Primary felony rape

 Secondary felony rape

 Abduction rape


 Gang-related murder

Indiscriminate felony murder

 Situational felony murder

Nonprofessional burglary

Professional burglary

Human trafficking

Drug trading

Expressive Offense

[Main function: serving as an outlet for blue color workers/low-income people’s resentment or other negative emotions]

Vandalism-related arson


 Group cause rape

 Prison rape


 Argument-triggered murder

 Domestic homicide

Hate Crime (perpetrated by those blue-collar workers/ lower-class people who firmly believe they are exploited by cold-blooded economic elites)

Criminal cult crime

Blue-Collar Workers/Criminals

Blue-collar crimes tend to be easier for the public to observe and experience, as well as for the authorities to investigate. Such phenomenon seems to be strongly related to the fact that most blue-collar workers do not possess an independent working space (e.g., personal office) or enjoy autonomy when performing a job. In other words, the actions of blue-collar workers during working hours normally are overseen by colleagues or supervisors and thus are observable. For this very reason, blue-collar crimes usually are perpetrated in open or public places (e.g., downtown districts of a big city, parking lots, railway stations, shopping malls, slum areas, tourist hotspots, and so forth), instead of in indoor or private settings where deviant or criminal behaviors can be easily committed in secret.

The research clearly indicates that there is a positive relationship between blue-collar workers/low-income persons and blue-collar crimes.

From the viewpoint of conflict theory or Marxism, all human societies on earth (no matter whether they are ancient or contemporary) are unequal in the distribution of economic resources (even those high-income countries that have sound social security system, like Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, are not purely equal). Because of this global problem, most governments in the modern world must deal with the problem of poverty and unemployment on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, no government, at least so far, can completely solve the problems of poverty and unemployment (probably because of insufficient economic resources or inadequate economic policy). Accordingly, some individuals (especially the truly advantaged and the underclass; see Wilson 1990) fall into in deep or permanent poverty – for these persons, improving socioeconomic status is extremely difficult, if not impossible, because they do not possess those assets (e.g., college education and professional degree) that will allow people to get a prestigious or high-paying job. Unable to obtain a professional or higher-paid job, of course, suggests that low-income people (including some blue-collar workers) will keep facing the problem of poverty.

Given that certain blue-collar workers and lower-class people are the least resourceful persons in a society, these populations naturally do not have many options in handling the economic pressure caused by financial difficulty. In this regard, perpetrating crimes seems to be an effective approach in helping less resourceful individuals acquire economic/financial resources because this tactic (even though it is illegal) does not require academic degree or investments.

In any event, blue-collar crimes tend to have the following four characteristics in common:

First, they do not originate from power, property, or prestige; instead, they spring from shortage of economic resources or economic predicament caused by unemployment (Geis and Meier 1977; Simon 2018). Second, such crimes (like burglary, drug trade, and robbery) can help some blue-collar workers and lower-income people solve short-term economic crisis (Shover and Wright 2000). Third, such crimes (e.g., burglary, shoplifting, and robbery) normally are perpetrated in places where the public can act as witnesses or interventionists. Finally, such crimes (e.g., arson, rape, and robbery) usually are not subtle or silent.

Although less typical, blue-collar or low-income individuals may also commit “white collar crimes” (i.e., crimes stemmed from power, property, or prestige). For example, blue-collar workers who serve as cashiers in a workplace that requires manual labor (e.g., auto body shop, manufacturing plant, and restaurant) will gain opportunities to access cash or other financial resources. The authority of handling cash or other assets then gives working-class or lower-class individuals opportunities to commit financial crimes, like embezzlement or larceny.


In this entry, the defining characteristics of blue-collar crimes, three representative categories of blue-collar crimes (i.e., arson, rape, and homicide), and some demographic features of blue-collar criminals are inspected. This inspection shows that blue-collar crimes mainly originate from social inequalities (particularly income, racial, and gender inequalities). Instrumental offenses (like burglary, shoplifting, and robbery) therefore can help some blue-collar persons/low-income people cope with (short-term) financial crisis.

In addition to instrumental offences, blue-collar crimes can be expressive offenses as well (e.g., domestic abuse, family violence, rape, and manslaughter). These “emotional crimes” usually are committed by those blue-collar workers/lower-class people who have heavy psychological burden (because of financial strain) or are annoyed by social environments. As a result, blue-collar crimes can be considered as desperate means used by certain working- or lower-class people to adapt to economic strains (or to alleviate emotional tensions).



  1. Clinard, M. B., Quinney, R., & Wildeman, J. (1994). Criminal behavior systems: A typology (3rd ed.). Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Company.Google Scholar
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Further Reading

  1. Canter, D., & Alison, L. (Eds.). (2000). Profiling property crimes. Burlington: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  2. Katz, M. B. (Ed.). (1993). The “underclass” debate: Views from history. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Quinney, R. (2001). The social reality of crime. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Child & Family StudiesUniversity of LouisianaLafayetteUSA