America's most peaceful state is Maine: ranking index

(24/7 Wall St./Frohlich/Stebbins/Sauter via USA TODAY) — Although the risk of deadly shootings appears to have escalated, violence in the United States is trending downward. In 1995, there were 685 violent incidents per 100,000 people nationwide. By 2014, the national violent crime rate had fallen to 366 violent crimes per 100,000 people. The United States is far from the most peaceful place on earth, however, and some states remain far more violent than others.

24/7 Wall St. generated an index to rank the peacefulness of each U.S. state. States with high violent crime and homicide rates, as well as high estimated small arms ownership and high incarceration rates were identified as less peaceful, while states with lower incidences of these factors were more peaceful. According to our index, Maine is the most peaceful state, while Louisiana is the least peaceful.

1. Louisiana
> Violent crime rate: 514.7 per 100,000 (6th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 10.3 per 100,000 (the highest)
> Median household income: $44,555 (7th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.2% (3rd highest)

In stark contrast with northeastern states, the southern region of the United States is home to the nation’s least peaceful communities. Chief among them is Louisiana, where crime levels remain among the highest in the country. It is the only state in the country with a murder rate of more than 10 homicides per 100,000 residents. Mass shootings — single incidents with at least four shooting victims — are also relatively common in Louisiana. So far this year alone, there have been eight documented mass shootings, which left 31 injured and nine dead. Only six other states have reported greater numbers of injuries from mass shootings in 2016.

Violence in a community often helps to perpetuate poverty, which in turn can exacerbate conditions that trigger violent acts. Nearly 20% of the population lives in poverty in Louisiana, the third highest rate of all states.

2. Alaska
> Violent crime rate: 635.8 per 100,000 (the highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 5.6 per 100,000 (12th highest)
> Median household income: $71,583 (3rd highest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.7% (the highest)

It may be hard to believe that Alaska, home to some of the most remote and expansive stretches of wilderness in the world, is the second least peaceful state in the nation. While crime levels have dropped across the nation, Alaska’s violent crime rate has remained roughly unchanged in recent years. Today, at 636 reported incidents per 100,000 state residents, Alaska has the highest violent crime rate in the nation. In a perfectly peaceful state, no one would own a gun for self defense. The presence of firearms not only increases the risk of violent incidents, but also reflects fear among gun owners and can cause fear in others. In Alaska, 61.7% of adults live in households with at least one firearm, the highest gun ownership rate of all states.

Unlike most of the nation’s least peaceful states, Alaska residents are relatively well-off financially. The typical household earns $71,583, the third highest median household income of all states.

3. Tennessee
> Violent crime rate: 608.4 per 100,000 (3rd highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 5.7 per 100,000 (9th highest)
> Median household income: $44,361 (6th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.1% (16th lowest)

More than half of the 20 least peaceful states are located in the South, and Tennessee stands out as one of the least peaceful states in the region. The state reports 608 violent crimes committed per 100,000 people in a year, the third highest rate compared with other states. The high level of violence in Tennessee is driven by a nation-leading aggravated assault rate of 453 reported incidents per 100,000 state residents. By contrast, there are 233 assaults per 100,000 people nationwide.

Unlike a number of other violent states, the incarceration rate in Tennessee, at 439 per 100,000 people, is lower than the national rate. Still, there is a considerable cost to containing violence in the state. For every 100,000 Tennesseans, there are 408 law enforcement workers, the second highest employment level of any state.

4. Delaware
> Violent crime rate: 489.1 per 100,000 (8th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 5.8 per 100,000 (7th highest)
> Median household income: $59,716 (14th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.2% (20th lowest)

Among the nation’s least peaceful states, Delaware has an exceptionally low gun ownership rate. At just 5.2% of adults, it is the lowest of all states. The lack of firearms, however, has not lowered the levels of violence in the state. The violent crime rate, at 489 incidents per 100,000 state residents is among the highest in the country. The state also imprisons a relatively large number of its citizens, a further indication of unrest and one of the major costs state governments incur in containing high levels of violence. For every 100,000 Delaware residents, there are 743 prisoners in state correctional facilities, the highest such figure after only Louisiana.

While it is among the most violent states in the country, Delaware has become much more peaceful in recent years. The state’s violent crime rate dropped by 132 incidents per 100,000 people since 2010, the largest drop of any state.

5. Nevada
> Violent crime rate: 635.6 per 100,000 (2nd highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 6.0 per 100,000 (6th highest)
> Median household income: $51,450 (24th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.4% (2nd highest)

Nevada’s violent crime rate of 636 incidents per 100,000 state residents is higher than in every other state except for Alaska. In a given year, there are 6.0 murders per 100,000 Nevadans, the sixth highest murder rate. The state also leads nation with 210 robberies reported per 100,000 people, more than double the national robbery rate.

Because high levels of unemployment are associated with suicide, higher incidence of domestic abuse, and crime, a weak economy can exacerbate violence. Like a number of other violent states, Nevada’s unemployment rate of 6.4% is one of the highest compared with other states.

6. Arkansas
> Violent crime rate: 480.1 per 100,000 (9th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 5.6 per 100,000 (12th highest)
> Median household income: $41,262 (3rd lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.8% (13th lowest)

A person who is either employed or actively seeking work is less likely to commit violent crimes than someone who is completely disengaged. In Arkansas, only 58.7% of the population participates in the labor force, one of the smallest shares of any U.S. state. A highly educated population also tends to be more peaceful. However, only 21.4% of Arkansas adults have a bachelor’s degree, a smaller share than in all but two other states.

With relatively weak workforce engagement as well as low educational attainment rates, Arkansas has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. There are 480 violent crimes for every 100,000 state residents a year in Arkansas, far more than the national rate of 366 incidents per 100,000 people.

7. Missouri
> Violent crime rate: 442.9 per 100,000 (11th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 6.6 per 100,000 (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $48,363 (15th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.5% (23rd lowest)

Missouri has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country and the third highest murder rate. The state’s two largest metropolitan areas — Kansas City and St. Louis — appear to be driving these figures up, with rates of 482 and 430 incidents per 100,000 people, respectively. Ferguson, Missouri was also recently at the center of the debate about police violence against black Americans after an officer shot unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown. In March 2015, in light of the shooting and protests, the Federal Department of Justice sued the city, citing serious flaws in its policing practices. The lawsuit was resolved in March, with Ferguson agreeing to reform its criminal justice system. There are 335 law enforcement officials in Missouri for every 100,000 residents, the 10th highest share in the country.

8. Florida
> Violent crime rate: 540.5 per 100,000 (5th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 5.8 per 100,000 (7th highest)
> Median household income: $47,463 (12th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.7% (25th highest)

So far this year, 16 mass shootings have been documented in Florida. While this is less than in California and Illinois, the 131 people injured and 67 killed in these incidents are by far the highest of any state. The 50 people killed in Orlando in June dwarfs the death toll from mass shootings in any state in recent memory.

Florida was not an especially safe state even before the shootings. The latest violent crime rate pegs Florida in fifth place, with 541 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people. The incidences of robbery, aggravated assault, and property crime are also each fifth highest compared with other states.

9. South Carolina

> Violent crime rate: 497.7 per 100,000 (7th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 6.4 per 100,000 (4th highest)
> Median household income: $45,238 (9th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.4% (15th highest)

Over the last five years, crime dropped by 100 incidents per 100,000 South Carolina residents, one of the best improvements of any state. Still, in a given year, nearly 500 violent crimes are reported per 100,000 people in the state, the seventh highest violent crime rate. The violent crime rates in all six South Carolina metro areas tracked by the FBI are well above the national violent crime rate. In the Sumter area, there are 666 violent crimes per 100,000 metro residents, one of the highest rates in the country.

The presence of firearms not only tends to increase the likelihood of violence, but also may reflect the fear of those who possess firearms for self defense. South Carolina’s gun ownership rate of 44.4% is well above the 29.1% of adults nationwide who say they live in a household with at least one firearm.

10. Arizona
> Violent crime rate: 399.9 per 100,000 (16th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 4.7 per 100,000 (20th highest)
> Median household income: $50,068 (21st lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.8% (9th highest)

Arizona is the 10th least peaceful state in the nation. In addition to an above-average violent crime rate, the incidences of property crime, larceny, and motor vehicle theft in Arizona are each among the 10 highest compared with other states. So far this year, data collection and research group Gun Violence Archive has tracked four mass shootings in the state in which a total of 12 people were killed. Just seven other states have had a higher number of deaths from mass shootings.

To contain such high levels of violence, Arizona needs to retain large law enforcement operations. For every 100,000 Arizona residents there are 339 law enforcement workers employed in the state. Also, 628 prisoners are held under state jurisdiction — the ninth and sixth highest numbers of all states.

50. Maine
> Violent crime rate: 127.8 per 100,000 (2nd lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 1.6 per 100,000 (4th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,462 (19th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.7% (10th lowest)

Based on a range of social and economic measures, Maine is the most peaceful state in the country. There are 127.8 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in a year, the second lowest rate of all states. With such low crime levels, fewer resources are needed by the state to contain violence. For every 100,000 Mainers, there are 169 prisoners of state correctional facilities, also the second lowest incarceration level of all states.

Maine is part of New England, where lower population densities and relative economic prosperity are likely contributing to less violence. Like most of New England, Maine’s unemployment rate of 3.7% and its poverty rate of 14.1% are each lower than the national rates. However, of the 10 most peaceful states, Maine is the only state where the typical household does not earn more than the national median household income of $53,657.

49. Vermont
> Violent crime rate: 99.3 per 100,000 (the lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 1.6 per 100,000 (4th lowest)
> Median household income: $54,166 (20th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.2% (5th lowest)

The most peaceful states tend to have relatively small populations, especially states in the Northeast. With a population of 626,562, Vermont is no exception. At 99 reported incidents per 100,000 people, Vermont has the lowest violent crime rate in the country. Property crimes such as larceny, and theft are also less common in Vermont than in any other state.

A person who is either employed or actively seeking work is less likely to commit a violent crime than someone who is completely disengaged. In Vermont, 67.2% of the population participates in the labor force, one of the largest shares of any state in the country. A highly educated population also tends to be more peaceful. In Vermont, 34.9% of the population has a bachelor’s degree, a higher share than in all but a handful other states.

48. New Hampshire
> Violent crime rate: 196.1 per 100,000 (4th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 0.9 per 100,000 (the lowest)
> Median household income: $66,532 (7th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 2.8% (2nd lowest)

Nationwide, the incidence of violent crime is trending downwards. New Hampshire’s violent crime rate of just under 200 incidents per 100,000 people is well below the national rate of 366 per 100,000 Americans. However, like just 12 other states, crime in the state has risen since 2010. Still, New Hampshire residents live in one of the most peaceful states in the country. Economic prosperity certainly helps keep the peace. Just 9.2% of people live in poverty, and only 2.8% of the workforce is unemployed — the lowest and second-lowest proportions of all states.

High levels of education in a community are strongly associated with peacefulness — and New Hampshire residents tend to be very well educated. The percentages of adults with at least a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree — at 92.0% and 35%, respectively — are each among the highest educational attainment rates of all states.

47. Minnesota
> Violent crime rate: 229.1 per 100,000 (10th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 1.6 per 100,000 (4th lowest)
> Median household income: $61,481 (10th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.8% (13th lowest)

States bear much of the cost of violence by paying for enforcement and correctional efforts. People living in violent communities are burdened making ends meet without the aid of family members who may be incarcerated or victimized by violence, or by enduring stress from fear of crime. At the same time, peacefulness can arise from economic prosperity.

Minnesota, one of the most peaceful states in the nation, has a relatively strong economy. The percentage of residents working or looking for work in Minnesota, at 70.5%, is the highest of all states and a strong indication that the economy is doing well. By contrast, the national labor force participation rate is 62.7%. Minnesota residents are also relatively well-off financially. The typical household earns $61,481 annually, the 10th highest median household income nationwide.

46. Utah
> Violent crime rate: 215.6 per 100,000 (8th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 2.3 per 100,000 (11th lowest)
> Median household income: $60,922 (13th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.0% (15th lowest)

Utah is the most peaceful state in the Western United States and one of the most peaceful in the country. Economic stability is a major driver of peace, and Utah residents are, by many measures, relatively prosperous. Only 11.7% of Utah’s population lives in poverty, a considerably lower share than the 15.5% national poverty rate. Furthermore, people in Utah are more likely to be actively engaged in the workforce than most Americans. The state’s labor force participation rate of 68.4% is the eighth highest in the country.

With a lower poverty rate than the national rate and greater labor force engagement, violent crime is relatively rare in Utah. There are 216 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents each year in Utah, far fewer than the 366 incidents per 100,000 national violent crime rate.

45. Massachusetts
> Violent crime rate: 391.4 per 100,000 (18th highest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 2.0 per 100,000 (9th lowest)
> Median household income: $69,160 (6th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.2% (20th lowest)

Massachusetts incarcerates a smaller share of its citizens than any other state in the country. There are 159 people in state prisons for every 100,000 Massachusetts residents, only a fraction of the 490 jailed persons per 100,000 people incarceration rate nationwide. While certain violent crimes are slightly more common in the Bay State than they are nationwide, homicide is far less common. There are 2.0 murders per 100,000 people in Massachusetts annually compared to a 4.5 per 100,000 national rate.

In keeping with broader trends, low incarceration and homicide rates accompany higher incomes and higher educational attainment in Massachusetts. The typical household in the state earns $69,160 a year, roughly $15,500 more than the typical American household. Furthermore, 41.2% of adults statewide have at least a bachelor’s degree, the largest share of any state in the country.

44. Rhode Island
> Violent crime rate: 219.2 per 100,000 (9th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 2.4 per 100,000 (13th lowest)
> Median household income: $54,891 (19th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.5% (14th highest)

Rhode Island’s violent crime rate of 219 incidents per 100,000 residents is well below the national violent crime rate of 366 per 100,000 people. One reason for this may be the state’s extremely low rate of gun ownership and gun violence. Just 5.8% of Rhode Island adults have a gun in their home, the second-lowest share in the country. To compare, the national adult gun ownership rate is 29.1%. Lower gun ownership strongly correlates with fewer gun-related deaths. Just 22.4% of Rhode Island suicides are gun suicides compared to more than half of all suicides nationwide.

43. Washington
> Violent crime rate: 285.2 per 100,000 (20th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 2.5 per 100,000 (14th lowest)
> Median household income: $61,366 (11th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.8% (9th highest)

Washington’s violent crime rate of 285 incidents per 100,000 residents is below the national rate of 366 for every 100,000 people. However, while the state’s combined rates of murder, rape, and robbery are below average, the state’s larceny, motor vehicle theft, and overall property crime rates are the highest of any state.

The resources Washington devotes to combatting violence are among the lowest in the country. The state has one of the lowest incarceration rates of any state and the fifth-lowest proportion of law enforcement employees per capita.

42. Hawaii
> Violent crime rate: 259.2 per 100,000 (13th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 1.8 per 100,000 (5th lowest)
> Median household income: $69,592 (5th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.3% (6th lowest)

Like the majority of the most peaceful states, poverty and unemployment are relatively rare in Hawaii. Hawaiians are also some of the wealthiest Americans. The typical household earns nearly $70,000 annually, the fifth highest median household income of all states.

States with higher gun ownership rates also tend to have higher rates of firearm suicide, murder, and accidental death. While Hawaii’s gun ownership rate, estimated at 45.1% of adults, is 10th highest, the firearm-related suicide rate and the incidence of murder in Hawaii are each some of the lowest in the nation.

41. Iowa
> Violent crime rate: 273.5 per 100,000 (16th lowest)
> Murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate: 1.9 per 100,000 (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $53,712 (21st highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.0% (15th lowest)

Iowa’s 1.9 homicides per 100,000 people is less than half the nationwide rate of 4.5 murders per 100,000 people. Other violent crimes, including rape and aggravated assault, are also relatively uncommon in Iowa. There are only 274 violent crimes per 100,000 state residents a year, far less than the corresponding national rate of 366 per 100,000 people.

Social disengagement and economic insecurity correlate strongly with a higher incidence of crime. In Iowa, a low violent crime rate is partially due to a high labor force participation rate. Nearly 70% of the state’s population is either employed or actively seeking employment, a far greater share than the 62.7% national labor force participation rate. In addition, only 12.2% of Iowa residents live in poverty compared to a 15.5% national poverty rate.

Read the full story, including more about the index's methodology, at USATODAY.com.

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY


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