America’s Most Violent (and Most Peaceful) States

© Denis Tangney Jr/Getty Images/Getty Images
© Denis Tangney Jr/Getty Images/Getty Images

While violent crime rates in the country have fallen steadily over the past several decades, the United States is still one of the less peaceful nations in the world. According to the Global Peace Index 2015 report, the United States ranked 94th out of 162 countries. However, the peacefulness of American communities varies considerably within states.

Following the example of the Peace Index, 24/7 Wall St. generated an index to rank the peacefulness of each state in the nation. States with high violent crime and homicide rates, as well as high estimated small arms ownership and high incarceration rates were identified as less peaceful, while states with lower incidence of these factors were more peaceful. According to our index, Maine is the most peaceful state, while Louisiana is the least peaceful.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Aubrey Fox, executive director of the U.S. office at the Institute of Economics and Peace, said, “A perfectly peaceful place would be a place where there is no violence and no fear of violence.” He explained this would be a place with no crime, no police spending, a strong government, and a healthy economy.

According to Fox, one of the largest drags on peacefulness in the country and in individual states has been the high levels of homicide and incarceration. Only three of the 10 least peaceful states had incarceration rates that did not exceed the national rate of 498.1 per 100,000 Americans. In all of the most peaceful states, incarceration rates were well below the national figure.

5 Drivers of PeaceLess peaceful states needed to have relatively large police forces. The ratio of law enforcement employees to state residents exceeded the national proportion of 285.5 law enforcement workers per 100,000 Americans in eight of the 10 least peaceful states, while all of the most peaceful states had proportionately small police forces.

There are two ways to look at the relationship between peace and enforcement, Fox explained. While the perfectly peaceful community would have zero police officers, communities need to invest in policing to deal with local threats and lower crime. However, “There is typically a point at which you get less return on your investment,” Fox said.

Fox gave an example of a community with crime at a 50-year low, but where police are spending seven times as much to keep it that way. “We really need to ask how much of a lost opportunity cost is that?” Fox argued. In fact, U.S. crime levels are at their lowest level since 1972. Police spending was far lower at that time, however, according to Fox.

The connection is far from well-understood, however. Crime continued to drop in the U.S. during the most recent economic downturn, for example. During the downturn, police spending fell dramatically.

Still, economic costs add up the less peaceful a community becomes, and poor socioeconomic climates can lead to less peacefulness. “Being poor or having less access to resources does put you on a path that is less peaceful,” Fox said.

The manner in which these factors lead to violence, however, is very difficult to establish empirically. John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy think tank, said, “The biggest predictor of whether there’s violence is dense clusters of unskilled young men.” He went on to explain that poor socioeconomic factors such as low educational attainment, high poverty rates, and high unemployment all lead to more violence by contributing to higher numbers of unskilled young males.

NO. 5 MOST VIOLENT: NEVADA

> Violent crime rate: 603.0 per 100,000 (3rd highest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 5.8 per 100,000 (9th highest)

> Median household income: $51,230 (25th lowest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 7.8% (the highest)

Nevada’s violent crime rate dropped by nearly 100 over the five years from 2009, the seventh largest decline in the country. Still, the state had the third highest violent crime rate, with 603 violent incidents reported per 100,000 people, much higher than the national rate of 367.9 per 100,000. The state also had the ninth highest murder rate, at 5.8 homicides per 100,000 people, versus the national rate of 4.5 per 100,000. Unemployment has been shown to correlate with higher rates of violent crime, and Nevada had the highest annual unemployment in the country, at 7.8%. High levels of income inequality frequently contribute to higher crime levels. In Nevada, however, income was distributed relatively evenly — the state’s Gini coefficient was better than the nation’s.

NO. 4 MOST VIOLENT: TENNESSEE

> Violent crime rate: 590.6 per 100,000 (4th highest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 5.0 per 100,000 (16th highest)

> Median household income: $44,297 (9th lowest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.7% (12th highest)

Tennessee was the fourth least peaceful state in the country. The incidence of violent crime in Tennessee — one of the five measures used to measure peacefulness — was also the fourth highest nationwide, at 590.6 reported incidents per 100,000 residents. Tennessee also had an especially large police force. With 408.9 law enforcement employees per 100,000 residents, Tennessee had the largest ratio of police workers to residents in the country. Tennessee residents had low income and low educational attainment — two economic indicators that tend to correlate with violent crime. The typical household in Tennessee made just over $44,000 annually, about $8,000 less than the $52,250 the typical American household earned. Furthermore, only 24.8% of adults in the state had a bachelor’s degree or higher, nearly 5 percentage points less than the national figure of 29.6%.

NO. 3 MOST VIOLENT: ALASKA

> Violent crime rate: 640.4 per 100,000 (the highest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 4.6 per 100,000 (20th highest)

> Median household income: $72,237 (2nd highest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.8% (10th highest)

While the homicide rate in Alaska was closely aligned with the national rate of 4.5 per 100,000 residents, the state’s violent crime rate was higher than any other state in the country. There were over 640 violent crimes, including burglary and assaults, per 100,000 residents in Alaska. Despite the relative prevalence of violence in the state, Alaska had the third smallest law enforcement workforce in the country. Alaska’s law enforcement workforce ranked 29th with 263.5 law enforcement workers per 100,000 residents — still lower than the national average of 285.5 police workers to 100,000 Americans. Violence often occurs more frequently in dense clusters of people. There are only about 1.2 people per square mile in Alaska, however, the lowest density nationwide and exceptionally low compared with other states identified as the least peaceful.

NO. 2 MOST VIOLENT: ALABAMA

> Violent crime rate: 430.8 per 100,000 (14th highest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 7.2 per 100,000 (2nd highest)

> Median household income: $42,849 (4th lowest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.8% (10th highest)

Alabama, the second least peaceful state in the country, had the second highest homicide rate in the nation. It is more than likely that Alabama had a high gun ownership rate, as firearms were used in more than two-thirds of suicides in the state, the second highest rate in the country after only Mississippi. Along with widespread firearm ownership, Alabama suffered from relatively poor economic conditions. In 2014, 6.8% of the labor force in Alabama were looking for work, the 10th highest unemployment rate in the country. According to Roman, high levels of unemployment, like other poor socioeconomic factors, are associated with higher numbers of unskilled, young men, who are among the most likely individuals to commit violent crimes

NO. 1 MOST VIOLENT: LOUISIANA

> Violent crime rate: 518.5 per 100,000 (5th highest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 10.8 per 100,000 (the highest)

> Median household income: $44,164 (8th lowest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.4% (18th highest)

Based on five measures of violence, Louisiana is the least peaceful state in the country. At 10.8 per 100,000 residents, Louisiana’s homicide rate was the only one to reach double digits, and the highest murder rate in the country. Louisiana also had an exceptionally high incarceration rate. At 849.6 per 100,000 residents, no state imprisoned or jailed more of its citizens than Louisiana. Louisiana had the third highest poverty rate as well as the second-highest percentage of households earning less than $10,000 annually, at 19.8% and 10.7%, respectively. High levels of income inequality are strongly associated with high levels of violent crime, and Louisiana had greater income inequality than all but two other states in the nation.

NO. 5 MOST PEACEFUL: MINNESOTA

> Violent crime rate: 234.4 per 100,000 (9th lowest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 2.1 per 100,000 (10th lowest)

> Median household income: $60,702 (9th highest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 4.1% (6th lowest)

While not by any means a guarantee, higher income and lower poverty are usually indicative of less violent crime. Minnesota certainly fits that model. The state’s median household income of $60,702 was ninth highest in the country, and only 11.2% of residents lived below the poverty line, the seventh lowest in the country. Minnesota ranked well in most measures of peace, but in particular, the state boasted an extremely low incarceration rate. Just 189.8 people of every 100,000 residents were in jail or prison, the third lowest rate in the country and well below the national rate of roughly 500 incarcerated people per 100,000 residents. Less densely-populated communities are typically safer than densely clustered areas. Like most of the most peaceful states, Minnesota’s population density of 66.6 people per square mile was lower than the national average.

NO. 4 MOST PEACEFUL: NEW HAMPSHIRE

> Violent crime rate: 215.3 per 100,000 (6th lowest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 1.7 per 100,000 (6th lowest)

> Median household income: $64,230 (7th highest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 4.3% (8th lowest)

Four New England states were among the 10 most peaceful in the country, and New Hampshire was one of them. Though violent crime has increased in New Hampshire from 160 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2009, to 215 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2013, the state’s violent crime rate was still the sixth lowest nationwide. Violent crime rates tend to fall as education levels rise, and at 92.8%, New Hampshire had the second highest proportion of high school educated adults in the United States. Financial well-being is also strongly associated with a lower incidence of crime. Only 8.7% of the state’s population lived below the poverty line, the lowest poverty rate in the country and significantly less than the 15.8% national poverty rate.

NO. 3 MOST PEACEFUL: UTAH

> Violent crime rate: 224.0 per 100,000 (8th lowest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 1.7 per 100,000 (6th lowest)

> Median household income: $59,770 (11th highest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 3.8% (4th lowest)

After Vermont and Maine, Utah was the third most peaceful state in the country. Accordingly, the state had a smaller police force. There were only 165 law enforcement employees for every 100,000 state residents, the sixth lowest proportion in the United States. High levels of income inequality generally correlate with more frequent violent crime incidents, and income inequality in Utah was among the lowest in the nation. Only two other states in the country had a narrower gap between the rich and the poor. Also, Utah’s 3.8% unemployment rate was the fourth lowest in the country and significantly lower than the 6.2% national rate. As in most other especially peaceful states, Utah’s population density of 33.6 people per square mile was a fraction of the national average population density of 87.4 people per square mile.

NO. 2 MOST PEACEFUL: VERMONT

> Violent crime rate: 121.1 per 100,000 (the lowest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 1.6 per 100,000 (3rd lowest)

> Median household income: $52,578 (20th highest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 4.1% (6th lowest)

Vermont had the lowest violent crime rate in the nation, at 121.1 reported crimes per 100,000 people. Even with some of the highest gun-ownership rates, Vermont has been routinely reporting some of the lowest firearm-related crime and murder rates in the nation. Relatively strong educational attainment rates among residents and a healthy job market are often associated with a safe environment. Vermont had the seventh highest college attainment rate at 35.7%, and the annual unemployment rate of 4.1% was one of the lowest nationwide. While by numerous measures the state was nearly the most peaceful in the country, a recent surge in heroin usage and crime associated with the drug trade may tarnish Vermonters’ sense of security. Governor Peter Shumlin addressed the crisis in his 2014 State of the State speech. According to the Boston Globe, heroin overdoses in the state doubled last year, and treatments for the drug have increased 250%.

NO. 1 MOST PEACEFUL: MAINE

> Violent crime rate: 129.3 per 100,000 (2nd lowest)

> Murder and non negligent manslaughter rate: 1.8 per 100,000 (7th lowest)

> Median household income: $46,974 (16th lowest)

> 2014 unemployment rate: 5.7% (21st lowest)

Maine ranked as the most peaceful state in the country, performing well in each of the five measures considered. The state had a murder rate of less than half the national rate, as well as the second lowest violent crime rate, only just slightly higher than Vermont’s. Not surprisingly, the state incarcerated the smallest proportion of its population in the nation, at just 163.6 people per 100,000 residents — less than a third of the national incarceration rate. While it was the most peaceful state, Maine did not display all the characteristics of a state with low violence. For example, income tends to be higher in low-crime areas, but Maine’s median household income of $46,974 was the 16th lowest in the country. By other demographic measures, however, the state fits the profile as a peaceful place. For example, just under 92% of Maine’s adults had at least a high school diploma, the fifth highest rate in the country.

Written by 24/7 Wall Street

(Source: 24/7 Wall Street)

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