2012 U.S. Peace Index Highlights America’s Most and Least Peaceful States and Cities

By Michael Shank and Craig Brownstein

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) announces the second annual release of the United States Peace Index (USPI). The 2012 USPI provides a comprehensive assessment of U.S. peacefulness at the state and city levels and analysis of the costs associated with violence and the socio-economic measures associated with peace.

Limited, but Useful, Definition of Peace

The USPI – the only statistical analysis that offers a comprehensive nationwide measurement of crime and its costs to the 50 states – is based on analysis of homicide, violent crime, policing, incarceration rates and availability of small arms data.

With improvements in all indicators from the 2011 to the 2012 USPI, the U.S. was found to be more peaceful than at any time since 1991. The Northeast is America’s most peaceful region with the lowest homicide, violent crime and incarceration rates in the country. The South is the least peaceful region with the highest homicide, violent crime, and incarceration rates, as well as the highest prevalence of gun ownership, and the second highest police employee rate.

According to the Index, if all the states in the U.S. had the same level of peacefulness as the most peaceful state of Maine, $274 billion worth of extra economic activity could be generated. This additional economic activity would be enough to generate over 1.7 million jobs.

Cost of Violence

The total cost of violence to the U.S. was conservatively calculated to be over S460 billion while the lost productivity from violence amounted to $318 billion. California was found to have the highest state burden of violence at over $22 billion per year while Vermont has the lowest at $188 million. For each state taxpayer, the total economic cost of violence varies greatly, from $7,166 per taxpayer in Washington D.C. to $1,281 for Maine taxpayers.

“What the USPI shows is that over the past 20 years, America has become substantially more peaceful, witnessing a significant and sustained reduction in direct violence,” said IEP founder and executive chairman Steve Killelea. “Homicide rates in the U.S. have halved since 1991 and the violent crime rate
has also fallen by nearly half during the same period. The state level trends are also very encouraging. Forty-two states reduced their violent crime rates, and 13 out of 16 Southern states increased their peacefulness.” Killelea added, “Given the financial costs of incarceration, emphasis needs to be placed on programs that reduce the likelihood of reoffending or finding more cost effective ways that deal with nonviolent offenders. Programs dealing with education and vocational training have been proven to be effective in reducing recidivism. To highlight the size of the problem, if all of the people who were in incarcerated were contained in one city it would be the fourth largest in the U.S.”

“For decades, many studies have looked at the issue of peacefulness; however, what we observe with the USPI is that, for the first time, we have the ability to cross reference data painting a much clearer picture of the real costs of violence in the U.S.,” said Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for The Atlantic. “Quantifying the cost of violence or the lack of it seems to be an important tool to help decision makers to make informed budgetary decisions when it comes to crime control. Studies like this one give us a window into our full potential as a nation, which directly impacts our ability to compete in a globalized world.”

Peace Improvements

There were improvements in all indicators from the 2011 to the 2012 USPI. The homicide rate decreased by 3.78 percent, the violent crime rate fell 6.03 percent and the total number of state prisoners fell by 0.6 percent. Despite these gains, violence and violence containment is costing the average taxpayer $3,257 each year.

Maine is America’s most peaceful state for the 11th year running with recorded reductions in the homicide and incarceration rates as well as the number of police employees. Maine also has the least cost to taxpayers with violence costing $1,281.
Louisiana is America’s least peaceful state for the 20th year running. Louisiana is ranked last in the nation on homicides, equal last on incarceration and ranks in the bottom ten on the other three indicators. In spite of this result, there is still some cause for optimism, as both the homicide and violent crime rate have fallen along with the incarceration rate. The most peaceful metropolitan area in America is Cambridge-Newton-Framingham in Massachusetts, followed by the Edison-New Brunswick metropolitan area in New Jersey and the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metro area in Washington. The least peaceful metropolitan area is Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Michigan, followed by the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, Louisiana metro area, and Miami-Miami Beach-Kendal, Florida. The more peaceful metro areas were found to have lower poverty, inequality and unemployment rates.
The biggest riser in peace over the year in analysis is Wyoming which moved into the top 20 states on the USPI for the first time since 1995, rising six places from 23rd to 17th thanks to improvement in homicide and violent crime rates. Arizona experienced the biggest fall, dropping into the five least peaceful states due to an increase in its homicide rate.

Peaceful States Perform Better

“What is absolutely clear from the Index,” continued Killelea, “is that peaceful states perform better across a range of economic, health, education and community factors. They have higher high school graduation rates, lower poverty, better access to basic services, higher labor force participation rates, higher life expectancy and less single parented families. Even social capital – like volunteerism, civic engagement, trust, and group membership – is higher in more peaceful states.”
For more information on the 2012 US Peace Index, interactive maps, and to download the report, go to www.visionofhumanity.org.

IEP is the non-partisan, independent research institute that annually produces the U.S. Peace Index and the Global Peace Index. IEP is dedicated to promoting a better understanding of the social and economic factors that develop a more peaceful society. It achieves its goals by developing new conceptual frameworks to define peace, providing metrics for measuring peace and uncovering the relationship between peace, business, and prosperity.

Michael Shank is Vice-President for U.S. Operations at the Institute for Economics and Peace.  You can reach him at (202) 550-4935 or mshank@economicsandpeace.org. For more information, visit www.economicsandpeace.org or follow the Global Peace Index on Twitter @GlobPeaceIndex. Craig Brownstein works for Edelman, which provides public relations counsel and strategic communications services aimed at building strong relationships and  influencing complex attitudes and behaviors. You can contact him at (202) 326-1799 or craig.brownstein@edelman.com.

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