May 6, 2012 at 12:03 PM ET
The United States is more peaceful now than at any time in the past 20 years. Nevertheless, violence still cost the economy at least $460 billion in 2010, through a combination of lost productivity and direct costs, according to a new report published by the Institute for Economics and Peace. 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the report in order to identify the most and least peaceful states, as well as how much they spend on violence.
Louisiana, which is the least peaceful state, has the highest rate of homicide. Maine is the most peaceful state and has the lowest rate of violent crime.
Peace, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, is a combination of the absence of violence and the institutions required to address it. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., chairman and founder of the IEP, Steve Killelea explained, “In perfect states, there’d be no crime, therefore you’d have no need for police, nor would you lock anyone up.”
The report considers five categories -- separated into three groups -- to calculate the United States Peace Index for 2011. The first group includes rates of violent crimes such as robbery and aggravated assault, as well as the rates of homicide in each state. The second group relates to the institutions used to prevent violence and is measured by the number of police per capita and the number of incarcerated residents per capita. The third includes the availability of small arms.
Violent crime weighs heavily on the economy. Financial burdens include static costs, such as medical judicial costs, as well as dynamic costs, such as lost productivity arising from injuries and incarceration. Medical costs resulting from assault cost the U.S. nearly $38 billion in 2010. Costs arising from homicides totaled more than $91 million.
While the causes of violence are not made clear, IEP’s analysis suggests a relationship between socioeconomic factors and violence. “I don’t think there’s a single silver bullet which creates peace,” Killelea told 24/7. “I think it’s multi-dimensional and really complex. So, on that basis, we’ve pulled out the correlations.” Rather than finding the causes, Killelea explained, the IEP tried to identify environments that suggest high violence.
To do this, the Institute for Economics and Peace considered 42 additional sets of data in five categories -- education, health, economic opportunity, civics and demographics, community and social capital -- to identify factors that may cause, be caused by or correlated with violence and high levels of enforcement.
After examining these data sets, 24/7 Wall St. identified 17 factors that were highly correlated with the measures of peace, although it is unclear as to the causal relationship between the two -- if any. Of those 17 factors, we considered 10 that appeared to be the most directly related to the presence of violence and the methods states use to maintain law and order.
In the category of economics, absolute poverty rates appear to be correlated with violent conditions. Nine of the 10 most peaceful states were among the 20 with the lowest poverty rates. On the other hand, six of the 10 least peaceful were among the 10 poorest states.
A number of education-related metrics correlate strongly with how peaceful the states are. According to Killelea, “it is not so much the quality of education that matters for peace, but that states keep children in school and off the streets.”
The strongest correlation with peace among the education data is the share of a state’s population with at least a high school diploma. In Texas, which is among the least peaceful states, just over 80 percent have at least a high school diploma -- the country’s lowest rate. Minnesota’s rate of nearly 92 percent is the country’s second highest. That state is also one of the most peaceful.
24/7 Wall St. used the Institute for Economics and Peace’s second annual study, The United States Peace Index, to identify the 10 most and least peaceful states in the country. The level of peacefulness in each state was based on five weighted metrics, including violent crime, homicide, the presence of police officers and the number of incarcerations per capita. The least-weighted of these was the availability of small arms.
Using IEP’s original sources, 24/7 Wall St. reproduced state data for 10 of the factors the report determined to have the strongest correlations nationally to the five measures of peace. These were teenage birth rates, teenage death rates, life expectancy at birth, percentage of people without health insurance, percentage of people with at least a high school degree, labor force participation, basic access to things needed for well-being, percentage of children in single parent families, poverty rate and income inequality -- measured by the Gini coefficient.
America’s most peaceful states
Maine is the most peaceful state in the country, as it has been since 2000. The state has the lowest rate of violent crime excluding murder. It averages 120 violent crimes per 100,000, while Nevada, the state with the most crimes, averages 654. It also has the lowest incarceration rate, effectively eight times lower than Louisiana’s, or the least peaceful state. In addition, Maine has the lowest rate of police employees among its population -- over half that of New Jersey.
Vermont is one of the most peaceful states in the country, with just 129.1 violent crimes and 1.1 murders per 100,000 people. The state is near the top for nearly every major indicator that the Peace Project has identified as being correlated with a low rate of violence and a high level of peace. The Green Mountain State is among the top 10 in the country for graduation rates, labor participation, and health insurance coverage. It also has the third-lowest rate of teen births in the country at 21.3 percent.
3. New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s high level of peace may be the result of its sound economic conditions. Only 8.1 percent of state residents are living in poverty -- the lowest rate in the country. It also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality. Additionally, New Hampshire has the lowest rate of homicide in the country, the third-lowest rate of other violent crimes and the fifth-lowest incarceration rate. New Hampshire also has a 91.5 percent high school graduation rate -- the fourth-highest -- and the lowest rate of births among teenagers.
America’s least peaceful states
Of the five metrics used to generate the Peace Index, Louisiana received the absolute worst score in all but two of them. The state has the eighth-worst violent crime rate and the fourth-worst rate of gun suicides. The state has the highest levels of both police per capita and incarceration. The state’s 867 prisoners per 100,000 people is well more than the next-worst state, Mississippi, which has 686 prisoners per 100,000. The state’s murder rate is what truly sets it apart as the least peaceful in the country. Louisiana’s homicide rate in 2010 was 11.2 per 100,000 residents. The next-worst state, Maryland, had 7.4 murders per 100,000 people. Louisiana was also among the worst 10 states for each of the 10 categories shown to have a high level of correlation with violence.
Tennessee is the second-least peaceful state in the country, and has in fact gotten worse since 1991. Additionally, the Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin metropolitan area is among the worst metro areas for peace. The state is one of the most violent, with nearly 608 violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents in 2010. The state also has among the largest relative number of police employees -- nearly 405 per 100,000 people. Tennessee also has one of the largest rates of children living in single parent households, one of the highest poverty rates, one of the lowest rates of income inequality and one of the highest rates of births among teenagers.
Many of the factors that normally correspond with a high rate of violence are not present in Nevada. The state is actually in the top 50 percent for poverty rate, income equality, and labor force participation. On the other hand, the state has a high teen birth rate and the second-highest percentage of its population without health insurance. Its citizens also have, according to Gallup, the second-worst access to basic necessities in the country. The state has the highest violent crime rate in the country, with 654.7 per every 100,000 residents recorded in 2010.
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