Report Tallies Economic Costs of Violence to States

April 6, 2011

States with the most violence are spending billions of dollars on medical care and prisons and recording lower productivity than more peaceful states, according to a new study on the effects of peace and violence on the economy.

Maine is the most peaceful U.S. state, while Louisiana is the least peaceful, based on results from the U.S. Peace Index (USPI), the first-ever ranking of the states on their levels of peace.

The USPI, created by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), an international think tank responsible for the annual Global Peace Index, revealed that peace in the United States improved by 8 percent from 1995 to 2009. This improvement was driven by a substantial decrease in rates of homicide and violent crime.

The Index, which defines peace as “the absence of violence,” looks at a set of five indicators, including homicide rates, violent crimes, percentage of the population in jail, number of police officers and availability of small arms (per 100,000 people) to rank the states. The data used to construct the Index is drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Centers for Disease Control.

The Index provides each state with the estimated “total cost of violence,” which reflects the cost of correctional and policing services, judicial system and medical costs associated with violent crime and homicide, and lost productivity and wages.

The total cost of violence per person in a state ranges from $656 in Maine to $2,458 in Louisiana. The USPI estimates that the economic effect of decreasing violence in states by 25 percent ranges from $126 million in Vermont to $16 billion in California.

According to the USPI, the 10 most peaceful states (from 1 to 10) are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Iowa and Washington.

The 10 least peaceful states (from 50 to 40) are Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Maryland.

The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that at a time when states and lawmakers in Washington are struggling to balance budgets, if the United States realized reductions in violence, crime and incarcerations to the same levels as Canada, this would result in more than $360 billion in savings and additional economic activity.

Reductions in violence and crime to levels equal to Canada would yield an estimated $89 billion in direct savings, $272 billion in additional economic activity, and potentially create 2.7 million jobs, according to the research. Canada was chosen because of its close geographic proximity and similar level of economic development.

“Peace translates into dollars and cents,” said IEP Founder Steve Killelea.

“By increasing peace, the United States can ensure that these unrealized billions are available to reduce taxes, stimulate the economy or invest in the nation’s infrastructure, schools, communities and small businesses,” Killelea said.

He said that incarceration rates are not only a drag on the U.S. economy, but they also don’t necessarily equate to decreases in crime and violence, or an increase in a state’s peacefulness.

The USPI found that a state’s ranking is strongly correlated with 15 socioeconomic factors, including high school graduation rates, infant mortality, access to basic services, labor force participation rates, and rates of poverty and teenage pregnancy.

Meanwhile, factors such as median income and a state’s political affiliation had no discernable impact on a state’s level of peace.

Additional Findings:

  • Maine was ranked first overall because it topped the list of states on three of the five USPI indicators: number of violent crimes, number of police officers and incarceration rate.
  • Regionally, Southern states were identified as being the least peaceful, while states in the Northeast were most peaceful. The peacefulness of states in the Midwest and West was about equal, with Midwest states being slightly more peaceful.
  • New York experienced the most significant increase in peace, as a result of decreases in violent crime and homicide rates, simultaneously with a substantial decrease in incarceration rates.
  • Conversely, South Dakota saw the largest decline due to a steady rise in incarcerations and the number of police without a fall in the homicide and violent crime rates.

Washington, D.C. is excluded from the USPI as incarceration data for the District is not available post 2002.

The U.S. Peace Index with the full rankings is available online www.visionofhumanity.org.

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