Special Report

The Safest States in America

186188474The number of violent crimes dropped across the United States by 4.4% in 2013 compared to the year before, according to estimates released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the last decade, the number of violent crimes declined by nearly 15%.

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.”

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The national improvement in crime levels has not been uniform across all states, nor were the resulting crime rates. While some states were relatively more dangerous despite the improvement, others were considerably safer than most states. In Vermont, the violent crime rate dropped by more than 19% in 2013 from 2012 — the largest reduction in the country. The state was also the safest, with 115 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people.

Nationwide, 368 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 people in 2013. Such crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. In six of America’s 10 safest states, there were less than 200 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 safest states.

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Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter were especially uncommon in the nation’s safest states. Half of the 10 states reported less than two such crimes per 100,000 people last year, and the murder rates in all of the safest states were below the national rate of 4.5 incidents per 100,000 people. Similarly, aggravated assault rates did not exceed the national rate of 229 incidents per 100,000 Americans in any of the safest states. In three states — Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont — less than 100 assaults were reported per 100,000 state residents last year.

Not only were residents of these states relatively sheltered from violence, but other sorts of crimes were also less common. For example, nine of the 10 safest states reported less property crimes per 100,000 residents than the national rate of 2,730 property crimes per 100,000 Americans. Motor vehicle crimes in particular were especially uncommon. There were less than 100 vehicle thefts reported per 100,000 state residents in five of the 10 states, versus 221.3 such thefts per 100,000 people nationwide.

While explanations for the level of safety in a particular area are by no means concrete, socioeconomic indicators are powerful predictors of crime. Just as in large U.S. cities, income plays a major role at the state level in predicting crime levels. A typical household earned more than the national median household income of $52,250 in six of the 10 states last year. Kentucky households were the exception among the safest states, with a median income of less than $44,000.

People living in the nation’s safest states were also far less likely than other Americans to live in poverty. The poverty rate in all but two of the 10 states was lower than the national rate of 15.8% last year. New Hampshire, the sixth safest state, led the nation with just 8.7% of residents living below the poverty line in 2013.

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. Unsurprisingly, residents in the safest states tended to be more highly educated. More than 90% of adults in seven of the 10 states had completed at least high school last year, versus the national rate of 86.6%. And while less than 30% of Americans had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, more than one-third of residents in four of the nation’s safest states had done so.

To identify the safest 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 safest states in America.

10. Montana
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 240.7
> Population: 1,015,165
> Total 2013 murders: 22 (tied-6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.5% (19th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 92.7% (3rd highest)

There were nearly 241 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in Montana in 2013, a third lower than the national rate. While the violent crime rate fell 5.1% nationwide between 2012 and 2013, it fell more than 13% in Montana. Low crime rates may be attributable to high levels of education. Nearly 93% of Montana residents had at least a high school diploma as of 2013, the third highest rate in the country. Despite the state’s relatively well-educated population, Montana struggled with poverty last year. The state’s poverty rate was 16.5% in 2013, one of only two of the safest states with a poverty rate above the national rate of 15.8%. This was likely due in part to the state’s large Native American population, which tends to be more impoverished.

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9. Minnesota
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 223.2
> Population: 5,420,380
> Total 2013 murders: 114 (20th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (7th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 92.4% (4th highest)

Minnesota households had a median income of $60,702 in 2013, more than $8,000 higher than the national benchmark. Additionally, state residents were quite educated, as 33.5% of adults aged 25 and older had obtained a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, well above the 29.6% of adults nationwide. The strong socioeconomic environment likely contributed to the low violent crime rate of only 223.2 incidents reported per 100,000 residents in 2013. Overall, the state’s violent crime rate fell 3.3% despite incidents of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter increasing more than 14% between 2012 and 2013.

8. Utah
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 209.2
> Population: 2,900,872
> Total 2013 murders: 49 (14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.7% (14th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 91.5% (tied-9th highest)

Only 12.7% of Utah residents lived below the poverty line in 2013, more than 3 percentage points below the national rate. As in several other relatively safe states, Utah had one of the smallest income gaps between rich and poor in the country — relatively few residents lived on less than $10,000 a year and more than $200,000 a year. Despite low poverty rates and a relatively balanced income distribution, Utah was one of only a handful of states where the violent crime rate rose between 2012 and 2013, driven largely by a 10.7% increase in reported robberies.

7. Idaho
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 204.7
> Population: 1,612,136
> Total 2013 murders: 27 (9th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.6% (25th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 89.4% (tied-21st highest)

The violent crime rate fell by more than 2% between 2012 and 2013 to roughly 205 per 100,000 residents, the seventh lowest rate in the country. While rape and aggravated assault rates were among the lowest in the country, these crimes accounted for the majority of the violent crimes reported. A typical household in Idaho earned $46,783 in 2013, below the national median household income of $52,250. After accounting for the state’s relatively low cost of living, however, Idaho residents’ low incomes may not be as low as they seem.

6. New Hampshire
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 199.6
> Population: 1,323,459
> Total 2013 murders: 22 (tied-6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 8.7% (the lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 92.8% (2nd highest)

Nearly 93% of New Hampshire residents aged 25 and older had at least a high school diploma in 2013, the second highest rate in the country. Additionally, more than 34% of adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, giving the state one of the best educated labor forces in the country. New Hampshire also had the lowest poverty rate in the country in 2013, at 8.7%. The state’s vibrant socioeconomic climate likely contributed to the fewer than 200 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in 2013, a more than 7% decline from the previous year.

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5. Kentucky
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 198.8
> Population: 4,395,295
> Total 2013 murders: 167 (24th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.8% (6th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 84.1% (5th lowest)

Less than 85% of Kentucky adults had at least a high school diploma as of 2013, and 22.6% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, both among the lowest rates nationwide. A typical family made just $43,399, also one of the lowest median incomes in the country. In addition, nearly 19% of state residents lived in poverty, more than 3 percentage points above the national rate. Unlike in many other states with similarly poor socioeconomic conditions, the conditions do not seem to exacerbate criminal activity. Kentucky had among the lowest crime rates last year, at fewer than 200 incidents per 100,000 people. The state’s violent crime rate also fell 11.6% in 2013 from the year before, the fourth largest reduction nationwide.

4. Wyoming
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 197.7
> Population: 582,658
> Total 2013 murders: 17 (3rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.9% (6th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 93.5% (the highest)

The violent crime rate in Wyoming dipped slightly between 2012 and 2013 to 197.7 incidents reported per 100,000 residents. This was despite murder and nonnegligent manslaughter and robbery rates each increasing by more than 20%. Still, a total of only 1,152 violent crimes were reported in Wyoming, fewer than in every state except Vermont. Wyoming’s income was among the most evenly distributed in the country, which may have contributed to the state’s low crime rates. A typical household earned $58,752 in 2013, among the higher incomes in the nation. Additionally, Wyoming adults are quite educated, with nearly 94% having received a high school diploma as of 2013, the highest proportion in the country.

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3. Virginia
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 187.9
> Population: 8,260,405
> Total 2013 murders: 316 (19th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.7% (9th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 88.4% (23rd lowest)

As in several other safe states, Virginia’s low violent crime rate can be partly attributed to financial stability among residents. A typical household earned $62,666 last year, the eighth highest such income in the country. The state also had among the lowest poverty rates, at 11.7% in 2013. By contrast, nearly 16% of Americans lived below the poverty line last year. In addition to a low violent crime rate, property crimes were also particularly uncommon in Virginia. For example, there were only 322 burglaries reported per 100,000 state residents, the second-lowest rate nationwide.

2. Maine
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 121.6
> Population: 1,328,302
> Total 2013 murders: 24 (8th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.0% (20th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 91.8% (5th highest)

There were just 69 incidents per 100,000 residents of aggravated assault reported last year in Maine, the lowest rate reviewed. This was despite incidents increasing 12.9% in 2013 from 2012, the largest increase in the nation. In fact, incidents of aggravated assaults declined across the nation. Mainers, who are perhaps more dependent on their vehicles because they live in one of the nation’s most rural areas, are also fortunate to have one of the country’s lowest motor vehicle theft rates. There were fewer than 69 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents reported last year, second only to Vermont.

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1. Vermont
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 114.9
> Population: 626,630
> Total 2013 murders: 10 (the lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.3% (12th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 91.5% (tied-9th highest)

Vermont is the safest state in the country, with a violent crime rate of just 115 incidents per 100,000 residents. The state also led the nation in nominal terms, with a total of only 720 violent crimes reported in 2013. Violent crime in the state has also fallen dramatically. Vermont’s violent crime rate fell 19.2% in 2013 from 2012, the largest improvement in the country. As in other safe states, Vermont’s relatively well-educated population may have contributed to its low crime rates. Nearly 36% of adults had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, and 91.5% had completed at least high school, both among the highest rates nationwide.

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