The Safest States in America

January 12, 2016 by Evan Comen

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.

Click here to see the 10 safest states.

Click here to see the 10 most dangerous states.

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.

10. Minnesota
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 5,457,173
> Total 2014 murders: 88 (19th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.5% (9th lowest)

Minnesota’s violent crime rate of 229 incidents per 100,000 people is considerably lower than the national crime rate of 366 incidents per 100,000 people and among the lowest of any state. As is often the case, prosperity among Minnesota residents may help make the state a safer place. With just 11.5% of residents living in poverty, the state has one of the lower poverty rates nationwide. While Minnesota is one of the safest states overall, its larger cities are relatively dangerous. Minneapolis, for one, reports a violent crime rate of 1,012 incidents per 100,000 people, one of the highest of any city. And St. Paul’s violent crime rate of 662 incidents per 100,000 people is about 300 crimes more per 100,000 than the national rate.

9. Rhode Island
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 1,055,173
> Total 2014 murders: 25 (7th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.3% (24th lowest)

It is generally accepted that unemployed individuals are more likely to turn to crime. However, while the state’s unemployment rate of 7.7% is the third-highest rate in the nation, Rhode Island remains one of the safer states. Both violent and property crimes are much more common in large urban areas. This may partially explain why Rhode Island — which has only one city with at least 100,000 residents, Providence — has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

8. Utah
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 2,942,902
> Total 2014 murders: 67 (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.7% (11th lowest)

There are 216 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Utah residents in a single year, the eighth lowest of any state in the nation and well below the U.S. rate of 366 incidents per 100,000 Americans. Jobless and destitute men are among the most likely individuals to commit crimes, and crime rates tend to be lower in areas where job markets are healthy — as is the case in Utah. Like in most of the nation’s safest states, Utah’s unemployment rate of 3.8% is one of the lowest in the country. Similarly, just as a high poverty rate can contribute to a higher crime rate, financial stability in an area tends to lower the incidence of violent behavior. In Utah, less than 12% of people live in poverty, one of the lower poverty rates nationwide.

7. Idaho
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 1,634,464
> Total 2014 murders: 32 (9th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.8% (25th highest)

Idaho’s annual violent crime rate of just 212 violent crimes per 100,000 people is the seventh least of any state. Since violent criminals tend to be young, unemployed men, areas with high concentrations of such men often have higher crimes rates. In Idaho, however, just 37.3% of the population consists of males aged 25 to 54, the second lowest share of any state. Similarly, the 4.8% unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country. Urban areas in a state can highly influence the overall crime rate. In Idaho, cities are fairly safe. Boise, the state’s largest city, reports a crime rate of 296 violent incidents per 100,000 people, lower than the national rate of 366 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans and exceptionally low compared with other large U.S. cities.

6. Kentucky
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 4,413,457
> Total 2014 murders: 160 (24th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 19.1% (5th highest)

Kentucky is one of only three states where the aggravated assault rate is below 100 incidences per 100,000 people. Relatively uncommon assaults contribute to a total violent crime rate of only 212 reported incidents per 100,000 people, one of the lowest in the country. While violent crimes tend be more common in areas with high poverty rates, Kentucky is an exception. Nearly one in five state residents live below the poverty line, one of the highest poverty rates of any state in the country. Additionally, while violent crime rates tend to decline as educational attainment goes up, Kentucky is an exception to this pattern as well. Only 22.2% of Bluegrass State adults have a bachelor’s degree, the fourth lowest college attainment rate of any state.

One factor that may partially account for the low violent crime rate in Kentucky is the state’s relatively safe cities. The violent crime rates in three of Kentucky’s large cities — Lexington, Bowling Green, and Owensboro — are well below the national violent crime rate.

5. Virginia
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 8,326,289
> Total 2014 murders: 338 (16th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.8% (12th lowest)

Virginia is one of just five states where fewer than 200 violent crimes are reported per 100,000 residents each year. Unlike other safe states, however, Virginia has a relatively large population, which explains why the number of murders reported each year, at 338, is actually greater than in most states. Virginia stands out among the nation’s safest states in another factor contributing to higher crime rates — large cities — as seven of the country’s largest cities are located in the state. And while the violent crime rate in Richmond, Norfolk, Newport News, and Chesapeake far exceeded the U.S. rate, Alexandria and Virginia Beach are two of the safest metro areas in the country and help lower the state’s overall crime rate. Financial stability also helps to lower the incidence of crime as Virginians are relatively wealthy. The typical household earns $64,902 annually, the eighth highest in the nation.

4. New Hampshire
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 1,326,813
> Total 2014 murders: 12 (2nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.2% (the lowest)

Strong economic conditions and low population density largely explain the low violent crime rate in New Hampshire. At 9.2%, the state’s poverty rate is the lowest in the nation. New Hampshire residents are also well educated — an education, as well as the opportunities for higher incomes a degree usually offers, help drive down violence in an area. Of adults in the state, 92.2% have at least a high school diploma, and 35% have at least a bachelor’s degree, each among the highest such rates nationwide. Also, like a number of other states on this list, New Hampshire is relatively rural and is home to relatively few people — although the population is well more than double that of neighboring Vermont, the nation’s safest state.

3. Wyoming
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 584,153
> Total 2014 murders: 16 (3rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (6th lowest)

States with below average poverty levels tend to have lower violent crime rates, and Wyoming is no exception. Roughly 11% of state residents live below the poverty line, one of the lowest poverty rates of any state in the country — and with less than 200 reported violent crimes for every 100,000 people, Wyoming is also one of the safest states in the country. Robberies occur very infrequently in the Equality State, where the rate is roughly one-tenth the corresponding national rate of 102 incidents for every 100,000 people.

Violent crime rates tend to be higher in major cities, where violence often drives up the overall state rate. Just like the two safest states in the country, Vermont and Maine, no cities in Wyoming have populations that exceed 100,000.

2. Maine
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 1,330,089
> Total 2014 murders: 21 (5th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.1% (22nd lowest)

As is the case in other safe, relatively rural New England states, the absence of any major urban centers in Maine may help keep the crime rate as low as it is. Moreover, dense, crowded areas are far more vulnerable to violent incidences, and Maine is one of the nation’s most sparsely populated states. However, several of the state’s socioeconomic measures are not nearly as strong as in other safe states. The percentage of households receiving food stamps, for example, at 16.9%, is the sixth highest in the nation.

1. Vermont
> Violent crimes per 100,000:
> Population: 626,562
> Total 2014 murders: 10 (the lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.2% (15th lowest)

Vermont is the safest state in the nation. Fewer than 100 violent crimes for every 100,000 people are reported each year, the lowest rate in the nation and a fraction of the national violent crime rate of 366 per 100,000. As in a number of other safe areas, relatively strong socioeconomic measures in the state likely help drive down the frequency of crime. Jobless and poor men with time on their hands, for example, are among the most likely perpetrators of crimes in the United States, and Vermont has had nearly the lowest unemployment rate over the last several years. Also, just 12.2% of individuals in the state live in poverty, one of the lower rates. But to the extent that financial instability and desperate situations can drive people to crime, Vermont’s relatively generous social services system may also help prevent some types of crime among low-income Vermonters.

Click here to see the 10 most dangerous states.