Ever have those days where things go so wrong that quitting your job and turning to a life of crime seems like a viable option? The economists have discovered that this career path is one more that is in decline. (See 10 Doomed Industries.) Sadly, I will never be John Dillinger, Clyde Barrow or the Hamburgler. Despite the myth, there is very little money in it.

This week in alternative career news, it came out that crime, in fact, doesn’t pay. A new report on British and American bank robberies by economists at England’s Universities of Sussex and Surrey shows not only how little most bank robbers pocket, but also the factors that can influence their economic gains for the effort.

It turns out that the average bank robber earns a paltry $7,500. (I made more than that working in a bookstore years ago.) And that’s before the robbers deduct their expenses like ski masks, bullets and large sacks with dollar signs printed on the outside.  

The average Canadian income is about $46,000 a year. A crook would have to rob six banks just to reach the average wage. That’s hardly the glamorous lifestyle of movie bank robbers who have mattresses stuffed with thousand dollar bills and solid gold everything.

Plus, in worse news, one in three attempts to rob a bank is unsuccessful (so they make nothing). Most people get caught on their fourth robber attempt. At which point they are thrown in jail and they also lose the ability to earn anything at all.

Even the thieves who are successful have it rough, economically. For example bank robbers who brandish guns and who have larger gangs both tend to be more successful in their robberies. However, they also have more expenses, and they have to divide the take up into smaller pieces. They can’t catch a break.

The study also indicated that modern security devices are helping to lower the success rate of robbery attempts even further. Given that banks’ biggest concern in a robbery is not the lost money, but the safety of their people, security screens that rise up from the counter to protect the teller from the robber are the most effective. Unfortunately only 12% of banks have these installed.

“This is useful information if we are thinking about how such activity may be combatted in the future,” said Professor Rickman of the University of Surrey.

Concluded Professor Rickman, “Robbing banks is no longer what you could call the crime of choice. As a profitable occupation, bank robbery leaves a lot to be desired.”

You just can’t make an honest living robbing banks anymore.

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Peter Harris

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