America’s Most (and Least) Peaceful States

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The United States is more peaceful now than at any time in the past 20 years. Nevertheless, violence still cost the economy at least $460 billion in 2010, through a combination of lost productivity and direct costs, according to a new report published by the Institute for Economics and Peace. 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the report in order to identify the most and least peaceful states, as well as how much they spend on violence.

Read: The Most Peaceful States

Read: The Least Peaceful States

Louisiana, which is the least peaceful state, has the highest rate of homicide. Maine is the most peaceful state and has the lowest rate of violent crime.

Peace, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, is a combination of the absence of violence and the institutions required to address it. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., chairman and founder of the IEP, Steve Killelea explained, “In perfect states, there’d be no crime, therefore you’d have no need for police, nor would you lock anyone up.”

The report considers five categories — separated into three groups — to calculate the United States Peace Index for 2011. The first group includes rates of violent crimes such as robbery and aggravated assault, as well as the rates of homicide in each state. The second group relates to the institutions used to prevent violence and is measured by the number of police per capita and the number of incarcerated residents per capita. The third includes the availability of small arms.

Violent crime weighs heavily on the economy. Financial burdens include static costs, such as medical judicial costs, as well as dynamic costs, such as lost productivity arising from injuries and incarceration. Medical costs resulting from assault cost the U.S. nearly $38 billion in 2010. Costs arising from homicides totaled more than $91 million.

While the causes of violence are not made clear, IEP’s analysis suggests a relationship between socioeconomic factors and violence. “I don’t think there’s a single silver bullet which creates peace,” Killelea told 24/7. “I think it’s multi-dimensional and really complex. So, on that basis, we’ve pulled out the correlations.” Rather than finding the causes, Killelea explained, the IEP tried to identify environments that suggest high violence.

To do this, the Institute for Economics and Peace considered 42 additional sets of data in five categories — education, health, economic opportunity, civics and demographics, community and social capital — to identify factors that may cause, be caused by or correlated with violence and high levels of enforcement.

After examining these data sets, 24/7 Wall St. identified 17 factors that were highly correlated with the measures of peace, although it is unclear as to the causal relationship between the two — if any. Of those 17 factors, we considered 10 that appeared to be the most directly related to the presence of violence and the methods states use to maintain law and order.

In the category of economics, absolute poverty rates appear to be correlated with violent conditions. Nine of the 10 most peaceful states were among the 20 with the lowest poverty rates. On the other hand, six of the 10 least peaceful were among the 10 poorest states.

A number of education-related metrics correlate strongly with how peaceful the states are. According to Killelea, “it is not so much the quality of education that matters for peace, but that states keep children in school and off the streets.”

The strongest correlation with peace among the education data is the share of a state’s population with at least a high school diploma. In Texas, which is among the least peaceful states, just over 80% have at least a high school diploma — the country’s lowest rate. Minnesota’s rate of nearly 92% is the country’s second highest. That state is also one of the most peaceful.

24/7 Wall St. used the Institute for Economics and Peace’s second annual study, The United States Peace Index, to identify the 10 most and least peaceful states in the country. The level of peacefulness in each state was based on five weighted metrics, including violent crime, homicide, the presence of police officers and the number of incarcerations per capita. The least-weighted of these was the availability of small arms.

Using IEP’s original sources, 24/7 Wall St. reproduced state data for 10 of the factors the report determined to have the strongest correlations nationally to the five measures of peace. These were teenage birth rates, teenage death rates, life expectancy at birth, percentage of people without health insurance, percentage of people with at least a high school degree, labor force participation, basic access to things needed for well-being, percentage of children in single parent families, poverty rate and income inequality — measured by the Gini coefficient.

These are the most (and least) peaceful states in America.