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America's Most (and Least) Peaceful States

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.

America’s Most Peaceful States

10. Iowa
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 272.2 (18th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.3 (tied for 3rd least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 309 (14th least)
> Police per 100,000: 266.1 (8th least)
> Basic access: 85.4 (6th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $3.03 billion

Iowa’s score on the Peace Index has actually gotten much worse compared to its score in 1991. In 2010, the state had a higher rate of violent crimes — excepting murders — than many of the states in the Midwest. Nevertheless, when all of the categories are considered, Iowa is among the 10 most peaceful states in the country. The state had just 1.3 murders per 100,000 people in 2010, tied for the third-fewest in the country. Iowa has the seventh-highest graduation rate as well as one of the lowest teen death rates in the U.S. The state has a very high labor participation rate, which correlates strongly with peacefulness.

9. Rhode Island
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 253.8 (13th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 2.8 (16th least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 197 (3rd least)
> Police per 100,000: 300.6 (23rd least)
> Basic access: 82.7 (22nd highest)
> Total cost of violence: $1.04 billion

Despite having an especially low high school graduation rate and a particularly high rate of children who grow up in single parent households, Rhode Island is one of the most peaceful states. The state has the third-lowest incarceration rate in the country. It also has among the lowest rates of births among teens and the lowest rates of teen deaths. As for its metropolitan areas, Providence-New Bedford-Fall River is among the most peaceful in the nation.

8. Hawaii
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 260.9 (14th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.8 (tied for 7th)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 302 (13th least)
> Police per 100,000: 273.8 (12th least)
> Basic access: 85.6 (4th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $1.33 billion

According to the Peace Index, Hawaii was the only state to move onto the most peaceful list after last year’s rank. The state has one of the lowest murder rates in the country, as well as one of the lowest rates of gun suicide. Hawaii has one of the best economies in the country. Poverty is nearly nonexistent in the state — Hawaii has a poverty rate of just 10% and one of the highest levels of income equality in the country. According to Gallup’s State of the States report, Hawaii has the fourth-highest level of basic access to necessities. The state also has the longest life expectancy in the country at 81.5 years.

7. Washington
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 311.5 (25th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 2.3 (11th least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 269 (10th least)
> Police per 100,000: 217.0 (2nd least)
> Basic access: 83.5 (18th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $7.76 billion

Washington is the seventh-most peaceful state in the country and the second-most peaceful in the American West. Washington stands out for having the second-lowest amount of police employees per 100,000 residents at just 217. The state also has a particularly low incarceration rate, with just 269 prisoners per 100,000 people. Homicide rates in the state are also relatively low.

6. North Dakota
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 223.5 (8th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.5 (6th least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 226 (6th least)
> Police per 100,000: 275.3 (14th least)
> Basic access: 84.9 (10th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $580 million

According to the report, the percentage of single-parent households correlates highly with crime levels. In 2010, just 24% of children in North Dakota were living in single-parent homes, the fourth-lowest percentage in the country. The state also has one of the best high school graduation rates, as well as the highest labor participation rate in the country at 72.3%. Despite the fact that it is the sixth-most peaceful state in the country, according to the Index, North Dakota’s score worsened by 50% between 1991 and 2010.


5. Utah
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 210.8 (6th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.9 (10th least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 238 (7th least)
> Police per 100,000: 252.8 (6th least)
> Basic access: 85.1 (8th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $2.34 billion

As one of the most peaceful states, Utah performs extremely well in most peace-related metrics considered by the United States Peace Index. The state has the highest level of income equality in the country, as measured by the Gini coefficient. It also has the lowest percentage of children living in single-parent households. It has among the lowest rates of police, prisoners and violent crime. It also has one of the highest high school graduation rates and highest life expectancies.

4. Minnesota
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 234.2 (9th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.8 (9th least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 185 (2nd least)
> Police per 100,000: 258.8 (7th least)
> Basic access: 86.6 (2nd highest)
> Total cost of violence: $4.68 billion

Minnesota has the second-lowest rate of incarceration in the country, with just 185 out of every 100,000 residents in a state prison. The state has a graduation rate of 91.8% and the second-highest labor participation rate in the country. According to Gallup, the state provides its residents with the second-best access to all basic necessities among all states. Minnesota also has the second-highest life expectancy in the country, as well as the second-lowest teen death rate.

3. New Hampshire
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 166.0 (3rd least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.0 (the least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 209 (5th least)
> Police per 100,000: 288.6 (16th least)
> Basic access: 85.4 (5th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $952 million

New Hampshire’s high level of peace may be the result of its sound economic conditions. Only 8.1% of state residents are living in poverty — the lowest rate in the country. It also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality. Additionally, New Hampshire has the lowest rate of homicide in the country, the third-lowest rate of other violent crimes and the fifth-lowest incarceration rate. New Hampshire also has a 91.5% high school graduation rate — the fourth-highest — and the lowest rate of births among teenagers.

2. Vermont
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 129.1 (2nd least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.1 (2nd least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 265 (9th least)
> Police per 100,000: 414.8 (4th most)
> Basic access: 84.1 (15th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $447 million

Vermont is one of the most peaceful states in the country, with just 129.1 violent crimes and 1.1 murders per 100,000 people. The state is near the top for nearly every major indicator that the Peace Project has identified as being correlated with a low rate of violence and a high level of peace. The Green Mountain State is among the best 10 in the country for graduation rates, labor participation, and health insurance coverage. It also has the third-lowest rate of teen births in the country at 21.3%.

1. Maine
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 120.2 (the least)
> Murders per 100,000: 1.8 (tied for 7th least)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 148 (the least)
> Police per 100,000: 213.9 (the least)
> Basic access: 84.0 (16th highest)
> Total cost of violence: $801 million

Maine is the most peaceful state in the country, as it has been since 2000. The state has the lowest rate of violent crime excluding murder. It averages 120 violent crimes per 100,000, while Nevada, the state with the most crimes, averages 654. It also has the lowest incarceration rate, effectively eight times lower than Louisiana’s, or the least peaceful state. In addition, Maine has the lowest rate of police employees among its population — over half that of New Jersey.

America’s Least Peaceful States

10. Mississippi
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 262.7 (15th least)
> Murders per 100,000: 7.0 (4th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 686 (2nd most)
> Police per 100,000: 369.3 (11th most)
> Basic access: 77.6 (the lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $4.17 billion

Mississippi has the second-highest rate of prisoners under state jurisdiction in the country, with 686 per 100,000 people, and the fourth-highest murder rate. It also has the worst access to basic necessities, including clean water and access to a doctor. The state has the highest rate of poverty, the highest rate of children living in single parent households, the lowest average life expectancy, and the highest rate of births among teenagers.

9. South Carolina
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 591.6 (5th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 6.1 (7th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 495 (11th most)
> Police per 100,000: 332.4 (24th most)
> Basic access: 80.4 (15th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $8.36 billion

South Carolina has the seventh-highest murder rate in the country, at 7.1 per 100,000, as well as the fifth-most violent crimes per capita, at 591.6. However, the state has only the 24th highest rate of police officers per capita. The Charlotte-Gastonia MSA, which is in is ranked as the sixth-least peaceful metropolitan region in the country, with the highest rate of police per capita in the U.S. The state’s issues with crime may stem from a lack of support for its youth. South Carolina has the among the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, as well as among the highest rates of teen pregnancy and teen deaths.

8. Arkansas
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 500.6 (10th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 4.7 (21st most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 552 (8th most)
> Police per 100,000: 342.0 (22nd most)
> Basic access: 80.2 (12th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $4.99 billion

Arkansas is one of the least peaceful states, as evident by its high incarceration rate of 552 prisoners per 100,000 residents. The state also has several factors correlating with its high crime rate. It has the nation’s highest rate of teenage deaths, with one death for every 1,000 teens, one of the highest rates of births among teenagers. The state also has a poverty rate of 18.4%, the third-highest in the country.

7. Texas
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 445.3 (15th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 5.0 (18th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 648 (4th most)
> Police per 100,000: 359.5 (14th most)
> Basic access: 79.2 (6th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $42.75 billion

For one of the least peaceful states in the U.S., Texas actually has relatively low violent crime and murder rates. However, the state has the fourth-highest incarceration rate, with 648 of every 100,000 residents in state prison. According to the Peace Index, violence costs the state $42 billion each year, more than any state but California. Texas has the lowest high school graduation rate in the country, at just over 80%. The state also has the lowest percentage of residents with health insurance in the U.S. The Peace Index also rated the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area as the fifth least-peaceful large metropolitan region in the U.S.

6. Missouri
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 448.0 (14th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 7.0 (3rd most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 508 (10th most)
> Police per 100,000: 346.4 (19th most)
> Basic access: 81.9 (20th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $9.48 billion

Missouri’s quest for peace is most severely set off course by the state’s murder rate, which is the country’s third-highest. The state also has a particularly high incarceration rate, with 508 out of every 100,000 residents in state prison. Missouri has one of the highest rates of teenage deaths, as well as one of the lowest life expectancies, at just 77.4 years. Among major metropolitan areas, the Kansas City metropolitan area is also among the least peaceful.

5. Arizona
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 401.7 (18th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 6.4 (6th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 572 (6th most)
> Police per 100,000: 351.0 (16th most)
> Basic access: 80.8 (16th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $10.77 billion

Arizona, is the fifth-most violent state in the country. It has not always been this way. According to the Peace Index, the state dropped nine places from last year’s rank. The cause of this was a substantial increase in the murder rate, which, at 6.4 murders per 100,000 residents, was the sixth-worst in 2010. The state’s incarceration rate is also sixth worst. When it comes to correlating factors, Arizona actually has the ninth-highest life expectancy in the country, at 79.9 years. However, the state also has the 17th-highest teen death rate, at 69 per 100,000.

4. Florida
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 537.2 (9th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 5.2 (17th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 556 (7th most)
> Police per 100,000: 404.7 (7th most)
> Basic access: 79.5 (7th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $34.28 billion

Despite making significant improvements in becoming more peaceful since 1991, Florida is still the fourth-least peaceful state. The state has among the highest incarcerations, violent crimes, and rates of police employees. Florida has a number of other problems that correlate with high crime. More than 21% of residents do not have health insurance, which is the country’s third-highest rate. The state also has the fifth-highest rate of income inequality. It has one of the worst rates of labor force participation, as well as one of the largest rates of children living in single-parent households. Among metropolitan areas, Miami-Miami Beach-Kendal is among the worst for peace.

3. Nevada
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 654.7 (the most)
> Murders per 100,000: 5.9 (8th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 472 (13th most)
> Police per 100,000: 365.6 (13th most)
> Basic access: 78.0 (2nd lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $5.47 billion

Many of the factors that normally correspond with a high rate of violence are not present in Nevada. The state is actually in the top 50% for poverty rate, income equality, and labor force participation. On the other hand, the state has a high teen birth rate and the second-highest percentage of its population without health insurance. Its citizens also have, according to Gallup, the second-worst access to basic necessities in the country. The state has the highest violent crime rate in the country, with 654.7 per every 100,000 residents recorded in 2010.

2. Tennessee
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 607.7 (4th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 5.6 (12th most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 432 (22nd most)
> Police per 100,000: 404.8 (6th most)
> Basic access: 81.0 (17th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $11.67 billion

Tennessee is the second-least peaceful state in the country, and has in fact gotten worse since 1991. Additionally, the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin metropolitan area is among the worst metro areas for peace. The state is one of the most violent, with nearly 608 violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents in 2010. The state also has among the largest relative number of police employees — nearly 405 per 100,000 people. Tennessee also has one of the largest rates of children living in single parent households, one of the highest poverty rates, one of the lowest rates of income inequality and one of the highest rates of births among teenagers.

1. Louisiana
> Violent crimes (excl. murder) per 100,000: 537.8 (8th most)
> Murders per 100,000: 11.2 (the most)
> Incarceration rate per 100,000: 867 (the most)
> Police per 100,000: 542.8 (the most)
> Basic access: 79.2 (5th lowest)
> Total cost of violence: $9.82 billion

Of the five metrics used to generate the Peace Index, Louisiana received the absolute worst score in all but two of them. The state has the eighth-worst violent crime rate and the fourth-worst rate of gun suicides. The state has the highest levels of both police per capita incarceration. The state’s 867 prisoners per 100,000 people is well more than the next-worst state, Mississippi, which has 686 prisoners per 100,000. The state’s murder rate is what truly sets it apart as the least peaceful in the country. Louisiana’s homicide rate in 2010 was 11.2 per 100,000 residents. The next-worst state, Maryland, had 7.4 murders per 100,000 people. Louisiana was also among the worst 10 states for each of the 10 categories shown to have a high level of correlation with violence.

Charles B. Stockdale and Michael B. Sauter

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