According to Gallup, 70.5% of Americans surveyed in 2012 and 2013 said they felt safe walking alone at night. This is effectively unchanged from 2011, when 71% of respondents said they felt safe.
In a number of metro areas, however, far fewer residents felt safe at night. In McAllen, Texas, where Americans were least likely to feel safe, less than half of all respondents were comfortable outside of their homes after dark. Based on data gathered by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, these are the 10 cities where Americans felt the least safe.
Seven of the 10 metro areas in which residents felt the least safe had violent crime rates above the nationwide rate of 386.9 incidents per 100,000 people in 2012. In the Memphis, Tenn., area, there were 1,056.8 violent crimes per 100,000 people, the most of any metro area in the country. Stockton, Calif., also had one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation, with 889.3 incidents per 100,000 residents.
But not all metro areas where residents felt unsafe had high violent crime rates. In two metro areas, McAllen and Yakima, Wash., there were just 319 and 349 violent incidents, respectively, for every 100,000 residents in 2012. In both cases, this was below the national rate.
24/7 Wall St. discussed the issue with John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank based in Washington, D.C. “A fact of modern life [is] that people are bombarded with negative stories about crime,” Roman said. People “develop the perception that where they live, or wherever they like to go, isn’t safe.”
While concerns about safety may be somewhat misplaced in some areas, in others, such “perceptions of feeling unsafe are right on,” Roman added. In those areas, residents may feel unsafe because crime is underreported. In immigrant communities, because “people who are victimized are afraid to come forward and report it, there’s a hidden number of crime,” Roman explained.
However, in bigger cities, like Washington, D.C., New York and Dallas, “immigrant populations are thriving because they can do business with the local governments in Spanish. Those cities that are attracting a lot of first and second generation immigrants have really much lower crime rates than you’d expect,” said Roman.
Residents of areas who are less likely to feel safe tended to also struggle to afford adequate shelter. According to Gallup, the relationship between the concerns for personal safety and being able to afford housing is not coincidental. “The factors that contribute to both of these problems are often rooted in socioeconomic status and are likely traced back to poverty and the discontent that comes with it,” Gallup noted.
In fact, these areas also suffered from high poverty rates. Each of the 10 had a poverty rate greater than the national rate in 2012. In Fresno, Calif., and McAllen, 28.4% and 34.5% of the population lived below the poverty line that year. Both were among the highest rates for any metro area in the country.
However, Roman noted that the state of the local economy is often “less related than you might think it might be” to perceptions of safety. Instead, perceptions of where an area is heading might be more important. Certain parts of the country that are improving “might be poorer than average, but there’s a sense of optimism, there’s a sense of development,” he explained.
Not surprisingly, residents in these areas also reported being unhappy with where they lived. Across the United States, 85% of residents told Gallup they felt satisfied with where they lived. In nine of the 10 metro areas where residents felt least safe, residents had lower satisfaction rates. In Stockton, just 73.3% of people surveyed were satisfied with the area, the second lowest rate in the country.
To determine the 10 metro areas where people felt most unsafe walking alone at night, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures from the Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index. Responses were collected for the index over 2012 and 2013. To determine how recorded crime rates actually aligned with citizens’ opinions of these areas, we considered figures published in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2012. Unemployment rates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for December 2013 and are seasonally adjusted. Other figures such as poverty rates, education and income are from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. Population figures are from 2012 as well.
These are the 10 cities where Americans don’t feel safe.