This City Is America's Murder Capital

Early research shows that the number of murders in America surged last year. The New York Times recently reported that data for the first three months from a sample of 37 cities showed murders rose 18% from the same period of last year. New FBI data confirm the conclusion.

Murder rates vary considerably by city. Experts believe that much of the difference comes from levels of poverty and difficult urban economies last year, which included spikes in unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic violence also has been on the rise. Vox speculated that higher than normal gun sales may have contributed. Police forces spread thin by protests could be another cause. However, there is no definitive evidence for the reasons for the rise.

The Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan think tank, tracks crime and policing data across America’s large cities. Among the crimes it tacks is homicide. It recently issued data for 2020 that covered 32 of America’s largest cities. The number of homicides and homicides per 100,000 residents rose in almost all of them, compared to 2019.

Obviously, the largest numbers of homicides happened in America’s largest cities by population. Homicides in Chicago last year reached 780, up from 502 in 2019. The count for New York City in 2020 was 454, compared with 300 in 2019. In Los Angeles, there were 347 murders, up from 254 in 2019.

The city with the highest homicide rate per 100,000 was St. Louis at 96.70, which was up from 70.41 in 2019. That makes it America’s murder capital. Total homicides there rose to 298 from 217.

The U.S. Census Bureau puts the population of St. Louis at 300,576, down 6% from 2010. Like many of America’s older industrial cities, its population has declined for decades. It peaked in St. Louis in 1950, when the figure reached 856,796. So, the city has lost almost two-thirds of its population over those seven decades.

The Census Bureau puts the white population in St. Louis at approximately 44% of the total. The Black population is 46% of the number. The median household income in the city is $43,896, over $20,000 below the national figure. The 21.8% poverty rate is about double the number for the entire county.

A sign of how severe the murder problem is in St. Louis is the extent to which its homicide rate per 100,000 people is higher than any other city. The next highest figure among the 32 cities measured is Baltimore at 55.01. Even with the high rates in the Maryland city, the gulf between it and St. Louis is staggering.

Click here to see the 25 cities where murders are on the rise.