The Most Dangerous States in America

January 12, 2016 by Sam Stebbins

Bullet hole
Source: Thinkstock
Violent crime has become less common in the United States in recent years. There were slightly more than 1.1 million reported incidents in 2014, or 366 incidences per 100,000 residents, a 9.4% decrease from the 2010 rate of 404 violent crimes for every 100,000 Americans. While the nation is becoming safer, many states have a higher violent crime rate than the national average rate, with the 10 most dangerous states reporting a rate of at least 445 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Based on violent crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the highest violent crime rates. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Of the 50 states, Alaska is the most dangerous, with 636 reported violent crimes for every 100,000 residents.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St. in December, John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, explained that “the number one predictor of crime is dense areas of disconnected young men.” All of the 10 most dangerous states have major cities where the violent crime rate is more than double the national average rate. Of the 99 large cities in the 10 most dangerous states, 10 have violent crime rates over 1,000 incidents per 100,000 people.

Click here to see the 10 most dangerous states.

Click here to see the 10 safest states.

While it is difficult to identify the root causes of violent behavior, violence is often conducted in similar contexts, and areas with especially high violent crime rates frequently share social and economic characteristics. A well-educated population, for example, tends to be more prosperous and less violent. In eight of the 10 most dangerous states, education attainment rates are below the national average.

“Places with high educational attainment and relatively higher incomes have more opportunities for citizens, so the choice to commit crime becomes less appealing,” Roman said.

Not surprisingly, higher poverty rates tend to accompany lower educational attainment in America’s most dangerous states. The poverty rate in six of the 10 most violent states exceeds the national poverty rate of 15.5%.

Aggravated assault is the principal driver of violent crime. These crimes are disproportionately common in America’s most dangerous states. The aggravated assault rate exceeds the national rate of 233 incidents per 100,000 Americans in all of the 10 most dangerous states. Also, in all 10 states, the aggravated assault rate comprises more than half of the overall violent crime rate.

To identify the most dangerous 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’s report. The data are broken into eight types of crime. Violent crime includes murder and non-negligent 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 nation’s most dangerous states.

10. Maryland
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
446.1
> Population: 5,976,407
> Total 2014 murders: 365 (14th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (2nd lowest)

Based on the number of violent incidents documented by the FBI, Maryland is the 10th most violent state in the nation. Each year, approximately 446 violent crimes are reported per 100,000 state residents versus the national violent crime rate of 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans. As in most states, violence varies considerably across Maryland. In the Baltimore area, for example, the violent crime rate of 1,339 incidents per 100,000 metro area residents is one of the highest of any U.S. region and much higher than the statewide rate. Low incomes are closely tied to the prevalence of violent crime, and in Baltimore, incomes are much lower than incomes across the state. Nearly 24% of individuals in Baltimore live in poverty compared to Maryland’s 10.1% poverty rate, which is lower than in every state except for New Hampshire.

9. Arkansas
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
480.1
> Population: 2,966,369
> Total 2014 murders: 165 (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.9% (6th highest)

Little Rock is the largest city in Arkansas and also a significant source of the state’s crime woes. Also the state capital, Little Rock reports the 12th highest murder rate of any large city in the country at roughly 22 murders for every 100,000 residents. Additionally, the rate of aggravated assault reported in the city, at 933 per 100,000 people, is the fifth highest of any large U.S. city. Including all violent crimes, there are approximately 1,392 violent incidents per 100,000 Little Rock residents each year.

Violent crime is more common among less affluent populations, and incomes in Arkansas are among the lowest in the nation. The typical household in Arkansas earns $41,262 annually, considerably less than the national median household income of $53,657.

8. Delaware
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
489.1
> Population: 935,614
> Total 2014 murders: 54 (13th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.5% (17th lowest)

Delaware has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country, with 489 reported incidents per 100,000 residents. In particular, robberies are extremely common in the state, with 136 incidents reported each year per 100,000 people, the third highest rate in the country. The high violent crime rates in most of the states on this list are driven largely by the presence of large, densely-populated cities. In Wilmington, the largest city in the state, the violent crime rate of 1,637 incidents per 100,000 residents is more than three times the corresponding statewide rate, and one of the highest of any large city in the country.

7. South Carolina
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
497.7
> Population: 4,832,482
> Total 2014 murders: 311 (19th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.0% (11th highest)

Each year, approximately 498 violent crimes per 100,000 residents are reported in South Carolina. Low incomes are closely associated with high violent crime rates, and South Carolina is one of the poorer states in the nation. As many as 18% of state residents live below the poverty line, one of the higher poverty rates in the country. Crime is also more common in dense urban areas, and violence in South Carolina’s cities drives up the state’s overall violent crime rate. In Columbia and North Charleston, the respective violent crime rates of 749 and 731 incidents per 100,000 people are both more than twice the national rate of 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans.

6. Louisiana
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
514.7
> Population: 4,649,676
> Total 2014 murders: 477 (10th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.8% (3rd highest)

Murder in Louisiana is common even compared to the most dangerous in the country. With 10.3 murders for every 100,000 residents, the murder rate in the Gulf state is the highest in the country and more than double the national rate of 4.5 murders per 100,000 people. Louisiana’s two largest cities, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, each rank among the 10 large U.S. cities with the highest murder rates. As is the case in many of the most dangerous states, poverty is relatively common in Louisiana, which has the third highest poverty rate of any state in the country at 19.8%. Also, slightly more than one in every 10 households in the state earns less than $10,000 annually, the third largest share of low income households in the country.

5. Florida
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
540.5
> Population: 19,893,297
> Total 2014 murders: 1,149 (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 16.5% (16th highest)

Florida’s violent crime rate overall is fifth highest in the country, with 541 reported incidents per 100,000 people in a single year. As is the case in most states with crime issues, violence is particularly concentrated in the state’s urban areas. Of the state’s 21 cities with populations of at least 100,000, seven have violent crime rates that are at least double the U.S. rate. Homestead, Daytona Beach, and Fort Myers are the most dangerous cities in Florida. Each have violent crime rates in excess of 1,100 incidents per 100,000 people.

4. New Mexico
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
597.4
> Population: 2,085,572
> Total 2014 murders: 101 (21st lowest)
> Poverty rate: 21.3% (2nd highest)

Compared to other border states such as Arizona, immigrants in New Mexico face less obstacles. Still, American immigration policy has contributed to the creation of a younger, less educated, and poorer immigrant population. Many of the immigrants live in poverty — itself closely associated with crime. It is likely immigrants comprise a disproportionately high share of the state’s high poverty rate of 21.3% — the second highest rate in the nation. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Hispanic state residents are also disproportionately represented in New Mexico’s prisons. Most of the violent crimes in New Mexico are aggravated assaults — the rate of 422 incidents per 100,000 people is third highest nationwide. Non-violent crimes too are common in New Mexico. Approximately 3,542 property crimes are reported per 100,000 people annually in the state, second highest after only Washington.

3. Tennessee
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
608.4
> Population: 6,549,352
> Total 2014 murders: 371 (13th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.3% (7th highest)

Tennessee is one of only three states where the violent crime rate exceeds 600 reported incidents for every 100,000 residents. Aggravated assaults are more common in Tennessee than in any other state. The rate of 453 aggravated assaults for every 100,000 Tennesseans is nearly double the corresponding national rate of 233 incidents per 100,000 people. As in many of the most dangerous states, violence in cities drive up the overall crime rate. Memphis, the state’s largest city, reports a violent crime rate of 1,741 incidents for every 100,000 residents, the second highest of any large U.S. city.

Crime rates tend to be lower among populations with higher educational attainment and vise versa. Only 25.3% of adults in Tennessee have a bachelor’s degree, one of the lowest educational attainment rates in the nation.

2. Nevada
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
635.6
> Population: 2,839,099
> Total 2014 murders: 170 (24th highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.2% (23rd highest)

Nevada’s violent crime rate of 636 incidents per 100,000 residents is the second highest of any state. A disproportionately large share of violent criminals in the United States tend to be young, unemployed men, which may be especially noteworthy in Nevada. The state has the fourth highest share of men aged 25-54 of any state, and it is tied with Mississippi for the highest unemployment rate in the country. Robberies make up a relatively large proportion of violent crimes committed in Nevada. About 210 robberies are reported for every 100,000 Nevada residents annually, by far the highest robbery rate in the country.

1. Alaska
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
635.8
> Population: 736,732
> Total 2014 murders: 41 (11th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (6th lowest)

Alaska’s violent crime rate is the highest of any state in the country. While murders and robberies are not as common in Alaska as they are in many of the other most dangerous states, rape and aggravated assault are highly prevalent. With roughly 105 reported rapes for every 100,000 state residents, the incidence of rape in Alaska is the highest of any state in the country and nearly triple the corresponding national rate. The rate of aggravated assault in Alaska is also disproportionately high. About 440 assaults are reported for every 100,000 people, the second highest rate in the country and nearly double the corresponding national rate.

Unlike most states with a high violent crime rate, people in Alaska are much less likely to be impoverished than most other Americans as the state has the sixth lowest poverty rate in the country. Also, only 3.9% of Alaskan households earn less than $10,000 annually, the second smallest share of any state in the country after only New Hampshire.

Click here to see the 10 safest states.