In a previous interview with 24/7 Wall St., John Roman, senior fellow at public policy research organization The Urban Institute said, “A 4.4% reduction in violent crime is astonishing. If you saw a similar increase in GDP, or a similar decrease in unemployment, it would be huge national news.”
Despite the national improvement in crime rates — as well as significant improvements in some of the most dangerous states — a number of states were much more dangerous than the rest of the nation. In fact, South Carolina and Delaware had among the largest decreases in violent crime and still had some of the highest violent crime rates in 2013.
Nationwide, 368 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 people in 2013. Such crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. In America’s 10 most dangerous states, there were well more than 400 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents. Based on violent crime rates published by the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report, these are America’s most dangerous states.
Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter were especially common in the most dangerous states. All but one of the states reported a higher murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate than the national rate of 4.5 incidents per 100,000 people. In Louisiana, nearly 11 murders were reported per 100,000 people, the highest in the nation.
Aggravated assault accounted for a large portion of violent crimes reported in these states. While 229 incidents of assault were reported per 100,000 Americans across the nation in 2013, at least 300 were reported per 100,000 residents in all but one of the most dangerous states. New Mexico led the nation with an estimated 450 aggravated assaults per 100,000 state residents.
In addition to violent crimes, other sorts of crimes were also more common in these states compared to national figures. For example, there were more than 3,000 property crimes reported per 100,000 residents in eight of the most dangerous states. The national rate, by contrast, was 2,730 per 100,000 Americans.
While violent crimes are committed for a variety of reasons, socioeconomic indicators are powerful predictors of crime. Just as in large U.S. cities, income plays a major role at the state level. A typical household earned less than the national median household income of $52,250 in seven of the 10 states in 2013. Households in Alaska and Maryland were the exceptions, with nation-leading median incomes of more than $72,000.
Crime rates tend to be higher in large urban areas. Several of the 10 most dangerous states were home to cities that had relatively high violent crime rates. Nine of the 50 most dangerous large U.S. cities were located in one or more of the 10 most dangerous states. Memphis, Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Baltimore, Maryland in particular had nearly the highest violent crime rates among U.S. cities and likely contributed substantially to their states’ overall crime problems.
People living in the nation’s most dangerous states were also far more likely than other Americans to live in poverty. The poverty rate in six of the 10 states was higher than the national rate of 15.8% in 2013. Nearly 22% of New Mexico residents lived below the poverty line, the second-highest nationwide and the highest on this list.
Educational attainment rates are yet another factor contributing to violent crime. Lower levels of education result in lower incomes later in life, which in turn can contribute to higher crime rates. In addition, as Roman explained in a previous discussion at the city level, poor education is part of several structural disadvantages that make crime very difficult to address. According to Roman, addressing these underlying economic and social issues is critical to reducing crime. For example, cities that “have been successful [at reducing crime] have promoted immigration, they’ve reduced economic segregation, and they’ve encouraged gentrification.” He added, “I think all three of those things are controversial. But I think the data suggests the results are overwhelming.”
To identify the most dangerous states in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates from the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report. Property crime rates also came from the FBI’s report. The data were broken into eight types of crime. Violent crime was comprised of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; and, property crime was comprised of burglary, arson, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. In addition to crime data, we also reviewed median household income, poverty rates, and educational attainment rates from the 2013 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
These are the most dangerous states in America.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 445.7
> Population: 2,959,373
> Total 2013 murders: 159 (23rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 19.7% (4th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 84.4% (7th lowest)
There were more than 445 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Arkansans in 2013, well above the national rate of 368 per 100,000 Americans. High crime rates can be partly explained by poor socioeconomic conditions in the state. Median household income in the state was just above $40,000, the second lowest in the country. Additionally, nearly 20% of people lived below the poverty line in 2013, the fourth highest rate in the country. Arkansas residents were also among the least educated in the country — only one in five residents 25 and over had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 460.0
> Population: 19,552,860
> Total 2013 murders: 972 (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 17.0% (tied-14th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 86.8% (19th lowest)
There were nearly 90,000 violent crimes reported in Florida in 2013, or 460 per 100,000 residents. Rapes and aggravated assaults largely contributed to the state’s high crime rates, despite the incidence of rape falling more than 11% between 2012 and 2013. Property crimes were also high, with more than 3,100 committed per 100,000 Floridians in 2013, compared to only 2,700 nationwide. The warm climate and more densely populated areas may have contributed to the high volume of crimes committed. According to a study published by Matthew Ranson, an environmental economist at Abt Associates — a public policy research and consulting firm — warmer weather may contribute to higher crime rates: “Warm weather lets people mix socially… And it is only a matter of probability that sometimes that mixture may prove volatile.”
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 467.8
> Population: 5,928,814
> Total 2013 murders: 381 (13th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 89.1% (24th highest)
Unlike most dangerous states, Maryland’s high crime rate cannot be explained by economic indicators. The state’s median household income of $72,483 was the highest in the country in 2013, and only 10% of Maryland’s population lived in poverty in 2013 — well below the national rate of 15.8%. Also, nearly 38% of residents had at least a bachelor’s degree, more than 7 percentage points above the national rate. Nevertheless, nearly 468 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 residents in 2013. Baltimore’s violent crime rate of 1,401 per 100,000 city residents in 2013 — the seventh highest rate compared to other U.S. cities — may have skewed the state’s overall crime rate.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 479.1
> Population: 925,749
> Total 2013 murders: 39 (12th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.4% (13th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 88.3% (22nd lowest)
The incidence of violent crime in Delaware fell 13% in 2013 from the year before, a much larger decline than the 5.1% drop in crime nationwide. Despite this improvement, violent crime rates were still among the highest in the nation, with nearly 480 reported per 100,000 residents. However, crime may not be as big a problem in Delaware as it appears. With such a small population, the state’s violent crime numbers are prone to sample errors and large fluctuations. Delaware and Alaska are the only states on this list where the estimated total number of violent crimes was less than 4,500. The average number of violent crimes across the 10 states on this list was more than 25,000 in 2013.
6. South Carolina
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 494.8
> Population: 4,774,839
> Total 2013 murders: 297 (20th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.6% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 85.6% (tied-12th lowest)
With nearly 500 violent crimes per 100,000 residents reported in 2013, South Carolina had the sixth highest violent crime rate in the country, despite a 11.7% decline in the violent crime rate. Between 2012 and 2013, both rape and robbery declined by at least 12% and were the largest influences on the state’s falling crime rate. Nevertheless, violent crime rates remained high in South Carolina, due in part to poor socioeconomic conditions. In 2013, South Carolina’s poverty rate was 18.6% and median household income was $44,163 — both worse than national levels.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 510.4
> Population: 4,625,470
> Total 2013 murders: 498 (9th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.8% (3rd highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 83.1% (4th lowest)
More than 17% of Louisiana residents received food stamps in 2013, well above the 13.5% who did nationwide. Low incomes may be the result of low education attainment rates. Only 22.5% of Louisiana residents aged 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, among the lowest rates in the country. These relatively poor socioeconomic factors likely contributed to higher crime rates. There were 510 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in 2013, a 2.8% increase over 2012. While crime rates dropped across the country, Louisiana was one of a handful of states where violent crime rates increased. Criminal activity in New Orleans and Lafayette, which both reported some of the higher violent crime rates among large U.S. metro areas in 2013, also contributed largely to Louisiana’s crime problem.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 579.7
> Population: 6,495,978
> Total 2013 murders: 328 (18th highest)
> Poverty rate: 17.8% (12th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 85.6% (tied-12th lowest)
The aggravated assault rate in Tennessee fell 7.9% in 2013 from 2012 — to nearly 437 incidents per 100,000 residents. Despite the drop, this was the second highest such rate in the country. Aggravated assault incidents accounted for more than 75% of all violent crimes in the state. Low education attainment rates and high poverty rates may partly explain the frequency of such crimes. As of 2013, less than 25% of residents 25 and over had at least a bachelor’s degree, and nearly 18% of all people lived in poverty. Both rates were considerably worse than the national figures. Crime is particularly concentrated in Memphis, where 1,656 violent crimes per 100,000 city residents were reported in 2013, the third highest among all U.S. cities. The poverty rate and other economic factors were also much worse in the city than in the state as a whole.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 591.2
> Population: 2,790,136
> Total 2013 murders: 163 (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.8% (24th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 85.2% (10th lowest)
Nevada’s violent crime rate fell 2.9% between 2012 and 2013 to 591.2 incidents per 100,000 Nevada residents, the third highest rate in nation. While there were significant improvements in the state in some types of crime, incidents of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter and rape rose 29.8% and 15.6%, respectively. While a politically charged issue, experts agree that background checks severely undercut the availability of firearms on the black market, where many perpetrators of violent crime and the severely mentally ill acquire weapons. Violent crime rates may be expected to increase in the future, as Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill that would have required background checks on all firearm purchases.
2. New Mexico
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 596.7
> Population: 2,085,287
> Total 2013 murders: 125 (21st lowest)
> Poverty rate: 21.9% (2nd highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 84.3% (6th lowest)
New Mexico’s violent crime rate rose 6.6% between 2012 and 2013 — the most in the nation — to nearly 597 per 100,000 residents. The increase in violent crime came despite Governor Susana Martinez’s avowal in 2011 to be tough on crime. As in other dangerous states, the concentration of crime in New Mexico’s larger cities may have contributed to the state’s crime problem. Albuquerque, for example, the state’s largest city, had an estimated crime rate of 775 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national rate. New Mexico residents were also among the nation’s poorest in 2013, with a median household income of $43,872 and a poverty rate of nearly 22%.
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 602.6
> Population: 735,132
> Total 2013 murders: 34 (11th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.3% (2nd lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 91.6% (tied-6th highest)
Alaska was the nation’s most dangerous state in 2013 and the only state with more than 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Incidents of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter and rape both rose nearly 10% in 2013 from 2012, despite falling across the country in 2013. Alaska residents have struggled with sexual assault for years. According to a 2010 survey of Alaskan women, 37% of respondents reported being the victims of rape or sexual assault. As of 2013, rapes were reported nearly four times as frequently as they were nationwide. High violent crime rates in Alaska may seem incongruous with the state’s socioeconomic environment. As of 2013, fewer than one in 10 residents lived in poverty, and thanks to a permanent fund that pays residents a share of oil profits, the state had the second highest median household income in the country, at $72,237.