Homicide, other violent crimes, incarceration, policing, and guns are costing this country hundreds of billions of dollars, and millions of jobs, every year. According to conservative estimates by the Institute for Economics and Peace, if the United States were on par with Canada on all five of those fronts, it could save $361 billion a year and add 2.7 million jobs. Given America's high debt and unemployment, it could certainly benefit from both.
The United States Peace Index, created by the institute last year, can help us realize those savings and jobs. The five most peaceful American states on the 2011 index - Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, and North Dakota, in that order - enjoy relatively low incidences of homicide and other violent crimes, low rates of incarceration, limited availability of firearms, and moderate levels of policing. That can be credited to these states' social and economic policies.
The least peaceful states on the index are, from the bottom up, Louisiana, Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, and Alabama. Pennsylvania and New Jersey ranked 21st and 26th, respectively. New Jersey has shown a greater increase in peacefulness over the past two decades, however, improving 16.4 percent, while Pennsylvania's has fallen 10.1 percent.
The index's most peaceful states have some of the highest rates of health coverage, high school graduation, educational opportunity, and perceived access to basic services, as well as among the lowest rates of teen pregnancy, income inequality, poverty, and infant mortality. Given the well-established correlations among inequality, poverty, and violence, none of this is terribly surprising.
Educating children, insuring residents, providing basic services, preventing teen pregnancy and infant mortality, and lowering poverty and inequality rates reduces the prevalence of violent crime, incarceration, policing, and gun trafficking. A state's ability to provide for its population in these areas dramatically increases its capacity to diminish violence.
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