The violent crime rate nationwide fell in 2014 to a rate of 365.5 incidents per 100,000 residents, the lowest it has been in decades. Crime, including murder, robbery, and other violent and nonviolent crimes, soared in the 1980s. After peaking in the early 1990s — and apart from a brief uptick during the recession — crime has steadily declined in the last 20 years .
That decline has not been evenly distributed. In some parts of the country, particularly metropolitan areas with extreme poverty and income inequality, not only is the crime rate still problematically high, but also it has recently increased — rather than declined. Other cities, though, have led the country with large decreases in crime. In some cases, the violent crime rate dropped by more than one third. In Dubuque, Iowa, the violent crime rate — which includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — fell by 58%.
Urban Institute senior fellow John Roman explained that the cities with substantial improvements in violent crime may be benefitting from the recent economic upswing more than others. “We’ve seen 71 months of consecutive private sector employment gains in the United States, and some places have been really amenable to that growth, and [others] have been really resistant to that growth.”
While there are other conditions contributing to declining crime in American cities, it appears that a consistently healthy job market is one of the most important factors. Although experts admit the relationship is complicated, gainful employment has been tied to lower crime rates.
Indeed, in seven of the 10 cities with the greatest declines in violent crime, unemployment rates have been consistently below the national rate over the past five years. The two cities with the greatest declines, Dubuque and Ames, Iowa, had among the lowest unemployment in the country during this time. Economic growth in many Iowa metro areas has been so steady that Iowa faces a problem most of the country does not — a shortage of available workers.
Economic growth does not always lead to lower violent crime rates. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for example, has the lowest unemployment rate among major metropolitan areas, yet the violent crime rate in the city increased by 41.4% between 2010 and 2014, a more severe climb than every major city excepting San Luis-Obispo, California.
According to Roman, this inconsistency stems from the differences in how metropolitan areas respond to economic prosperity. Some parts of the country have not had consistent and even improvement in employment and earnings. Unequal growth can actually lead to more severe crime. “The story today is really about where there are economies that fuel growth across the entire city, versus places where that growth is physically centered in one particular part of the city,” Roman said. “The cities that have experienced the biggest declines in violent crime seem to be cities that have much more organic growth that cuts across multiple geographies within the city.”
Based on figures published by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 metropolitan statistical areas where crime rates declined the most from 2010 to 2014. In order to be considered, areas had to retain the same geographic boundaries during the period covered, and they had to retain consistent reporting practices. We reviewed annual unemployment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2010 and 2014. We also considered data from the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey on household income, educational attainment rates, and poverty.
These are the cities where crime is plummeting.