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The prevalence of violent crime — which includes murder, rape, robbery,
and aggravated assault — has declined in many of the nation’s
metropolitan areas. In some regions it has fallen at an especially fast
pace. In Dubuque, Iowa, the violent crime rate fell by nearly 60% — from
387.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2009 to 159.8 cases per 100,000
people in 2013. Based on figures published by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI), these are the metropolitan areas with the greatest
declines in the violent crime rate.
John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, explained that
crime rates in the United States have fluctuated dramatically for
decades. Crime increased in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, and then
declined everywhere in the 1990s until it became stable. “About midway
through the last decade, [however], crime started to decline again, only
this time, it declined in some places, but not in others,” Roman said.
The question is why crime rates decline in some areas but not in others.
The area’s economy and economic segregation account in part for the
diversity in crime levels. For example, most of the metropolitan areas
with plummeting crime rates also had relatively low unemployment rates.
Seven of the 10 areas had lower unemployment rates than the national
rate of 7.4% in 2013. However, none of these places were especially
wealthy. In fact, the median household income exceeded the national
figure of $52,250 in 2013 in only Racine, Wisconsin.
According to Roman, how well a metro area attracts young residents —
who may not have had time to earn large incomes — is more important than
high incomes in some cases. “Places that bring new people to a city
tend to experience the biggest crime declines,” Roman said. And while
“the biggest predictor of crime is having lots of young men in dense
proximation,” many of the places with plummeting crime rates happen to
be college towns, which attract high concentrations of young people. A
university encourages growth and innovation, for example. And
increasingly, universities promote integration with the community, which
has a positive overall effect on a town. Nine of the metropolitan areas
where crime is plummeting were home to at least one university.
1. Dubuque, IA
> 5-year change in violent crime rate: -58.7%
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2009): 387.2
> Violent crime per 100,000 (2013): 159.8
> Murders per 100,000 (2013): 0.0
No metropolitan area reviewed had a greater drop in violent crime
than Dubuque, Iowa. Less than 160 violent crimes were reported per
100,000 residents in 2013, down nearly 60% from 2009 when more than 387
crimes were reported per 100,000 people. Like only a handful of U.S.
metropolitan areas, there were zero murders in Dubuque in 2013. Other
crimes were similarly infrequent. Dubuque had an aggravated assault rate
of just 104 per 100,000 people, for example, less than half the
national rate of 229 per 100,000 Americans in 2013. The job market was
also exceptionally strong that year, with an unemployment rate of just
4.5%. By contrast, 7.4% of the nation’s workforce was unemployed.