Based on results from the Institute for Economics and Peace’s United States Peace Index 2012, the U.S. is at its best behaved in two decades. Since the IEP began collecting data in 1991, homicide rates have fallen nearly 50%, and 42 states have reduced their crime rates. In this year’s report, the IEP ranks the most, and least, peaceful states based on five factors: homicide rate, violent crime rate, incarceration rate, police presence, and availability of small arms. For the first time, the report also includes a Metropolitan Peace Index, which assesses American cities on the same factors (sans availability of small arms) the Atlantic reports.
In addition to its long-term findings, the index also reports a strong correlation between peace and socio-economic circumstances. “What is absolutely clear from the index is that peaceful states perform better across a range of economic, health, education, and community factors,” Steve Killelea, the founder and CEO of the Institute, told MSNBC, noting that the decrease in overall violence could be due to private security, greater law enforcement presence and an aging population.
As usual, New England is home to the most peaceful states. For the 11th consecutive year, Maine led the way with its low rates of incarceration, crime and police presence that translate into relatively reasonable costs to taxpayers, only $1,281 per year. New Hampshire, and Vermont came in at No. 2 and 3, respectively, while Minnesota and Utah filled out the top five. New England also boasts the most peaceful metro areas, with Cambridge, Massachusetts, taking top honors. Edison-New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Seattle, Washington, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and Peabody, Massachusetts trailed closely behind.
At the bottom of the rankings, Louisiana was deemed the nation’s least peaceful state, as it has been for the last 20 years. But it’s not all bad news on the bayou. Louisiana has seen decreasing rates of homicide and violent crime recently. Tennessee, Nevada, Florida and Arizona rounded out the five least peaceful states, while Detroit, New Orleans, and Miami topped the country’s list of least peaceful cities.
Even with improvements over the course of the last 20 years, the U.S.’s performance is only relative. Due to its incarceration rate (the highest in the world by far), military spending and military involvement, the U.S. still didn’t crack the list of top 50 most peaceful countries. Though there have been notable improvements, it’s still costing taxpayers. A lot. According to the report, the average taxpayer spends $3,217 annually, and the country as a whole spends $460 billion per year. If the rest of the country brought its numbers in line with Maine’s, it would save taxpayers an extra $274 billion a year. Now, that’s a crime.