Contrary to popular opinion, violent crime is on the decline. Since 1995, violent crime in the United States has decreased by nearly half from 685 incidents per 100,000 Americans to 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans today, according to estimates released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Since 2010, the violent crime rate has dropped by 9.4%. In some states, crime rates have declined by more than twice the national drop.
Vermont has the lowest violent crime rate in the country, with just 99.3 incidents per 100,000 residents. The state’s violent crime rate also declined the most, with the number of incidents dropping by 23.7% since 2010.
The FBI lists numerous factors that can generally influence criminal activity, including population density, youth concentration, poverty level, and how states manage their justice systems, among others. Given how these variables have changed over time, academics and policy experts have a difficulty reaching a consensus as to what has been driving the nationwide decline in crime.
For example, while median household income has increased since 2010, the share of Americans living in poverty has also increased — likely as a consequence of rising income inequality. Similarly, while the share of older Americans has been growing to record numbers, the share of Americans living in urban areas has also been rapidly increasing.
Still, one trend is clear. The safest states today were also some of the safest states five years ago. Nine of the 10 states with the lowest violent crime rates today also had the lowest violent crime rates in 2010. The only state missing from the current list is North Dakota, which due to a recent oil boom has been experiencing rapid urbanization. It is also likely the rapid urbanization has contributed to the state’s third largest growth in violent crime rate in the nation.
Dense, urban areas can be a principal driver of violent crime in a state. A majority of the most dangerous states in the country have large cities with high crime rates that inflate statewide crime rates overall. Not only are the safest states home to fewer and relatively less-populated cities, but the cities in these states also tend to be safer.
States with the least violent crime per capita share other traits. In an interview in September with 24/7 Wall St., John Roman, a senior fellow at public policy research organization The Urban Institute, said that “the number one thing that affects crime rate is dense clusters of low-skilled, young men.” Many of the safest states have low unemployment and relatively small shares of jobless adult males. In Vermont, the safest state in the country, men aged 25 to 54 comprise 37.4% of the population, the third smallest share in the country. Also, the state’s 4.1% unemployment rate is the fifth lowest.
Violent crime consists of four offenses: murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. States with the lowest violent crime rates also have comparatively few nonviolent crimes. In nine of the 10 safest states, residents report fewer property crimes per capita than the 2,596 per 100,000 person national average.
To identify the safest states in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates from the FBI’s 2014 Uniform crime report. Property crime rates also came from the FBI. The data are broken into eight types of crime. Violent crime includes murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Property crime includes 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 2014 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Crime and socioeconomic data for cities with populations of at least 50,000 people also came from the FBI and ACS.
These are the safest states in the country.