2015’s Safest States to Live In

by Richie Bernardo

WH-2014-Safest-States-to-live- in 3As much as we’d all like to point at a random spot on a map and decide to live there, relocating is unfortunately never that easy. And it shouldn’t be. We all have different needs to evaluate before packing the dishes. For some of us, cost of living and tax burden are the most important factors. For others, it’s education standards, health care quality or all of the above. But whatever our motivations for moving, safety should always rank among our top priorities when comparing places to live.

By safety, we’re not referring exclusively to protection from violence and crime. This WalletHub study encompasses various forms of safety, including workplace safety, emergency preparedness, home and community stability, road safety and, of course, financial security. With so many elements to consider, it’s no wonder many people find the process of choosing a new place to call home somewhat challenging.

To help ease that process, WalletHub identified which of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia offer the safest and most budget-friendly environments. We used 20 key metrics to analyze each state according to different safety standards, taking into account the rates of crime and traffic accidents, for instance, as well as data related to employer insurance coverage, climate disasters and more. Our findings, as well as expert commentary and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings

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Overall Rank

State

“Financial Safety” Rank

“Road Safety” Rank

“Workplace Safety” Rank

“Natural Disasters” Rank

“Home & Community Safety” Rank

1 Massachusetts 16 1 6 8 3
2 Vermont 6 12 8 4 7
3 Minnesota 1 2 4 33 15
4 New Hampshire 7 22 2 6 14
5 Hawaii 14 23 19 1 5
6 Utah 5 7 6 7 37
7 Connecticut 37 4 15 20 2
8 Rhode Island 41 16 1 17 6
9 Virginia 13 6 11 31 13
10 Maine 21 25 15 3 20
11 Wisconsin 10 11 29 21 19
12 Iowa 7 8 36 37 8
13 Washington 27 5 10 14 30
14 Ohio 24 3 13 30 12
15 New York 33 20 27 41 1
16 Maryland 25 18 21 26 10
17 Nebraska 2 21 30 42 26
18 North Dakota 4 31 51 5 34
19 New Jersey 45 15 24 43 4
20 Wyoming 11 13 47 23 25
21 Pennsylvania 22 29 35 25 11
22 North Carolina 29 45 3 35 9
23 California 40 33 24 12 16
24 Delaware 18 34 17 14 39
25 Colorado 11 28 8 37 32
26 District of Columbia 44 10 39 10 18
27 Indiana 26 18 27 39 23
28 Idaho 18 32 44 19 28
29 Illinois 43 9 37 39 17
30 Kansas 9 23 23 50 31
31 Michigan 33 26 34 8 48
32 Oregon 47 14 20 22 40
33 South Dakota 3 37 48 29 41
34 Georgia 45 34 5 35 27
35 West Virginia 29 44 45 16 22
36 Montana 15 51 42 23 29
37 Alaska 31 17 49 2 47
38 Texas 22 41 24 45 33
39 Florida 48 42 18 18 38
40 Missouri 17 29 22 47 44
41 Alabama 41 27 12 48 36
42 Kentucky 35 39 40 43 24
43 Arkansas 28 36 33 31 51
44 Arizona 38 50 14 26 45
45 Louisiana 31 42 41 33 43
46 Nevada 51 40 30 10 42
47 New Mexico 48 45 43 13 49
48 Tennessee 36 38 32 48 46
49 Oklahoma 20 47 46 51 35
50 South Carolina 39 49 38 28 50
51 Mississippi 50 48 50 46 21

Safest-States-to-Live-In-Artwork

Ask the Experts

There’s no place that’s completely immune to all danger. Some locations simply dodge or deal with them better than others. For additional insight and advice, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on various safety concerns. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?
  2. What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?
  3. What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?
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  • Jerry R. Paytas Vice President of Research and Analytics at Fourth Economy Consulting and Adjunct Professor of Urban and Regional Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College
  • Richard Rosenfeld Founders Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Missouri - St. Louis
  • Michael Rocque Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bates College
  • Robert Fishman Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Planning
  • Rob Olshansky Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • David Kay Senior Extension Associate with the Community & Regional Development Institute in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University
  • Kheir Al-Kodmany Professor of Urban Planning and Policy at University of Illinois at Chicago
  • David C. Sloane Professor of Urban Planning at University of Southern California, Price School of Public Policy
  • Eileen M. Ahlin Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Harrisburg School of Public Affairs
  • Jay Kolick Professor and Director of the Criminal Justice Program at Rosemont College, School of Graduate and Professional Studies
  • Michael P. Johnson Associate Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs at University of Massachusetts Boston, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies
  • Meghan E. Hollis Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, School of Criminal Justice
  • John Kilwein Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Undergraduate Studies at West Virginia University
  • Robert T. Greenbaum Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Associate Dean for Curriculum at Ohio State University, John Glenn College of Public Affairs
  • Vicki L. Bogan Associate Professor of Behavioral Finance at Cornell University, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
  • Georgette Chapman Phillips Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University

Jerry R. Paytas

Vice President of Research and Analytics at Fourth Economy Consulting and Adjunct Professor of Urban and Regional Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College
Jerry R. Paytas
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

When people are looking for a safe place to live, they overestimate the danger from low-risk threats such as crime. No one would say that they want to live in a high crime area. The reality is that nationwide there are only 5.1 deaths per 100,000 people from homicide. Crime is highly distorted because the reporting of crime rises in areas with more people and therefore more full-time police officers. Perceptions and fear about crime are always much worse than the actual frequency and risk of crime. Most people feel safe in their cars, but there are nearly twice as many people (10.3) who die in motor vehicle crashes than from homicide. Furthermore, people will choose to live further from work, choosing a home in a low-crime but more distant location that exposes them to more risk from their

The factors that are the most severely underestimated are environmental and health factors. There are much bigger risks from disease, many of which are related to our life-style choices (such as driving versus walking) or related to environmental conditions such as air and water quality. No one would say that they choose to live in a heavily polluted area, but many do make that choice either because they lack the information, they underestimate the long-term risks, or they value other factors over health concerns. Moving to an area with bad air quality exposes that person to risk of death from chronic respiratory disease of 47.2 per 100,000, which is more than nine times greater than the risk of death from crime.

Top Ten Causes of Death in the United States
Cause Deaths per 100,000 people
Diseases of heart 193.3
Malignant neoplasms 185.0
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 47.2
Accidents (unintentional injuries) 41.3
Cerebrovascular diseases 40.8
Alzheimer's disease 26.8
Diabetes mellitus 23.9
Influenza and pneumonia 18.0
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis 14.9
Intentional self-harm (suicide) 13.0
Source: Centers for Disease Control.

Of course, most people don’t like to think too much about death. Much of their worry and concern is about experiencing other suffering related to the dangers in life. Crime is still a serious violation of our security and reduces our quality of life even when someone isn’t murdered. Measuring and comparing suffering however, is hard to do, but let’s try anyway. According to the National Institute of Justice, personal crime has been estimated to cost $105B annually in medical costs, public costs and lost earnings, plus another $450 billion in suffering and reduced quality of life. The total economic cost of crime is $555 billion. These are significant costs to society, but they pale in comparison to the costs from disease. The annual costs of heart disease and stroke were estimated at $315.4 billion, diabetes costs $245 billion and the economic costs of drinking too much alcohol were estimated to be $223.5 billion. Just these three health issues costs far more than crime, unless you consider the subprime mortgage crisis as fraud, which cost the economy $7 trillion in lost household wealth out of a total economic cost of nearly $20 trillion.

These choices are as much more about emotion and identify as they are about a rational assessment of safety risks and economic costs. We overemphasize threats that are sudden versus long–term or slow-building and have more fear about threats that originate from someone or something beyond our control. We worry too much about natural disasters or the kind of crime that leads the news, but not nearly enough about the real threats to our health and welfare.

Richard Rosenfeld

Founders Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Missouri - St. Louis
Richard Rosenfeld
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

Crime has been greatly overrated as a risk in choosing a place to live. The city one lives in, not to mention the state, has little to no bearing on victimization risk. The neighborhood you live in can elevate your risk for crime, but not nearly as much as your age and daily activity patterns. Young people and those who spend a lot of time out at night have an elevated risk for crime.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

The immediate step is to make sure your police department is engaging in "smart" enforcement strategies. The best are place-based strategies that beef up police patrols in the areas where crime is heavily concentrated -- the so called hot spot approach.

Michael Rocque

Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bates College
Michael Rocque
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

I am not sure I would say one or another is overrated, because some of these things are interconnected. In other words, it is likely that poor economies and crime are linked (though criminologists debate this). I would say crime is the one factor that people tend to worry about the most, likely because it is the least predictable. We know a lot about what criminals look like sociologically and even biologically, but that is a far cry from being able to predict who will be a criminal or where crime will occur.

What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

In terms of cyber security, I would encourage consumers to do what they can to protect their identities. Some companies offer protection for online transactions and these can be incredibly useful. Further, if people do use debit cards or credit cards online, it is essential to check statements regularly to detect potentially fraudulent activity. A good bank or credit card company will provide this service as well.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

This is a very complex question that a book could be (and many have been) written about. Crime is not caused by any one factor, either environmental or biological. That said, I am a big proponent of prevention programs that can be targeted toward at risk families, providing basic parenting education, nutrition, physical activity, and ensure the child is not falling behind in terms of development. I also think that education policies can go a long way toward reducing crime, ensuring that our school systems are fully funded, we exclude as few children as possible, and that the education they receive has some bearing on their ability to make a meaningful living upon graduation (from high school or college).

In terms of criminal justice policy, there is a lot of evidence that harsh punishments do not make us safer and can actually make things worse. So reducing mass incarceration should be a priority. This goes particularly for youth, who are being locked up in unprecedented numbers. I can think of few more damaging things to do to a developing individual than locking them up with other antisocial youth.

Robert Fishman

Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Planning
Robert Fishman
What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

Don't buy a big house at the edge of a metro region! All the statistics point to a "McMansion glut," as millennials prefer smaller houses or condos close to transit and close to downtown.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

People comparing relatively high crime rates in cities to low ones in suburbs fail to factor in the higher probability of auto accidents due to increased driving and "total auto dependency" in the suburbs. From that perspective, cities may be safer than suburbs. The Amtrak derailment was a shock, but I would say in general that increased investment in transit by state and local policymakers would make our cities and suburbs safer.

Rob Olshansky

Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rob Olshansky
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

If your goal is to choose a safe place to live, a strong economy trumps everything. It means you are more likely to have a job and therefore able to provide a safe home for you and your family. It means that more people in the community have jobs, and so there will be less crime and less drug use. It means you are more likely to be able to do the things that protect you from natural hazards: have a well-built home in a safe location, have a local government that adopts and enforces hazard-reduction principles, have the resources to respond and rebuild if a disaster strikes.

David Kay

Senior Extension Associate with the Community & Regional Development Institute in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University
David Kay
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?
  1. Overall, “safety” concerns per se probably are not as common in decisions about where to live as might be commonly thought. Especially if you are considering high levels of comparison, like what you seem to be doing, comparing one state versus another. While safety risks might be useful to consider from a policy perspective at the statewide level, they aren’t really that useful to compare on a statewide level of aggregation from an individual choice perspective. Which is not the same as saying that people aren’t concerned about things like neighborhood crime, or that various kinds of “safety” concerns didn’t contribute, along with many other factors, to sprawl or the historical flight of whites and wealth from older urban centers, or various other phenomena which are important.
  2. From the perspective of “rational decision theory”, people, as mentioned, tend to respond inappropriately to risks that involve low probability of happening, but have large or drastic consequences when they do. Often also, a “dread” factor leads people to “over-react”, but sometimes people may also dismiss or suppress or rationalize away concern or reactions. They also often tend to react more strongly to risks over which they have little control, over risks that are inequitably distributed, are unfamiliar and infrequent, etc. So people pay “too much” attention, in most cases, to place related concerns from your list like crime relative to concerns like tripping on broken pavement, like natural disasters compared to bad drivers (how is that place related, one might ask?), to dangerous workplaces (especially after a highly publicized workplace shooting) compared to the risks of accidental shootings, to violence perpetrated by strangers downtown compared to violence perpetrated by close friends or relatives in the home, etc.
Finally, I’d note that while lots of attention is given to risks that individuals over-react to from the “rational” perspective, there are probably many which are suffering from “under-reaction” from an individual and policy perspective: flooding and storm damage, historically the case but now with raised stakes given uncertainties of climate change (check out what happened to the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance policy reforms of 2012), not to mention less visible climate events like extended periods of heat; or risks associated with shoveling snow, or place related growing risks associated with insect pests like emerald ash borer (killing trees that then pose hazards) compared to ones like deer ticks/Lyme disease which pose risks more directly and immediately to humans bodies, etc.

Kheir Al-Kodmany

Professor of Urban Planning and Policy at University of Illinois at Chicago
Kheir Al-Kodmany
What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

I suggest that engaging in mixed-use developments that support pedestrian activities and connectivity could help in reinvigorating communities, downtown, and key urban and suburban places, and in turn, enhance security. These projects increase the usability of space, boost foot traffic, and improve the presence of people in public spaces. Jane Jacobs' concept of "eyes on the street" presented in her seminal book Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) may apply here. When people are around, criminals feel unsecured and discouraged to get involved in criminal activities. "People density" concept is useful to deter crime. Of course, up to a point. For example, extreme overcrowding may foster theft activities because thieves could get quickly lost in the thick crowd.

Further, increasing the presence of people and foot traffic support economic activities of retail and shopping, which occur mostly on the ground floor, again augmenting "eyes on the street" concept. Increasing the presence of people and foot traffic are among the cheapest and most effective means to improve security.

David C. Sloane

Professor of Urban Planning at University of Southern California, Price School of Public Policy
David C. Sloane
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

People tend to move to a place for many reasons -- family or friends already live there, adjacent to work, good schools. Safety is a prime concern -- not so much at the state level, as on a neighborhood or city level. Every state has safer and less safe places, and safety is one consideration. I personally don't think any concern is overrated, because the decision is so personal that one has to take into consideration what will affect their quality of life. Americans do worry about crime more than the statistics would suggest, but any one incident can be traumatic. Similarly, natural disasters, such as the earthquakes we have here in Southern California, often terrify people (and big earthquakes are horrible), but pretty much anywhere one lives, disasters can happen.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Safety is a concern for all of us, no matter what economic class or race and ethnicity, whether we live in cities, suburbs, or rural areas. While we think the right policy is spending more money on police technology, research suggests that almost all neighborhoods are safer when the people who live in them get to know each other, interact with each other regularly, and watch out for each other. Research also suggests that when people know police officers on an informal basis, they are more satisfied with police activities, and don't feel as alienated from them.

So, policymakers could fund more community policing -- with police not in cars but walking around, training so officers feel more comfortable with residents who may not be from the safe ethnicity or economic class as they are. And, encourage communities to come together, build trust, and develop strong social networks.

Eileen M. Ahlin

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Harrisburg School of Public Affairs
Eileen M. Ahlin
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

Some of the most important safety factors to consider when choosing a place to live include the crime rate and local economy. These two factors do not necessarily go hand in hand, though a poor economy can impact crime rates – particularly property crime. Economic conditions in an area can affect foreclosure rates which have been associated with increases in burglaries and other property crimes, particularly when the homes are vacated and not occupied by residents. This should be interpreted with caution because this finding is not widespread and some researchers failed to find increases in property or violent crimes in large cities related to recent economic conditions.

For residents looking for homes in questionable areas, or seeking to increase security of their current home, there are ways to increase what criminologists call “guardianship”. Guardianship over property can include four different mechanisms: (1) physical target hardening (locked doors, installing alarms), (2) personal protection (home occupancy, keeping up appearances that you are home when on vacation – making sure newspapers do not accumulate in the driveway), (3) informal social control (getting to know your neighbors who will look out for each other and your property), and (4) natural (surveillance through environmental design such as keeping shrubs and trees near the house at a low height so they do not cloak potential burglars) can be enacted at both individual and neighborhood levels to lessen criminal opportunity for would-be offenders.

Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina have been related to increased criminal activity and resident displacement. When deciding where to live, people should consider the risk of any natural disaster for their own safety as well as the protection of their property. Making a housing decision based on the potential for natural disaster is easier than deciding if crime would occur after a natural disaster struck. There are some areas that are prone to weather related natural disasters that could require additional insurance or higher premiums and are determined through actuarial risk assessments. However, natural disasters could occur in many places that are not deemed to be high risk. What is difficult is determining the probability that criminal will stem from natural disasters -- there are many factors that influence informal (e.g., local residents) and formal (e.g., police, states of emergency) responses to disasters that could leave areas open to criminal activity.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Despite a desire for cure-all panaceas to any crime problem, there is rarely a one-size fits all program or practice that can be implemented to rid the community of crime as it is caused by numerous factors, and its prevention requires multiple strategies that should be systematically identified and implemented by many community partners – police, schools, businesses, and community members.

What we do know is that to reduce crime, policy-makers and state legislatures need to focus on evidence-based techniques and programs. Programs and practices that are not effective or based on scientific principles will not reduce crime, and at their worst they can increase crime. There are a variety of ways to address crime, at the individual-level or community level, and it is imperative that communities take stock of the root of their crime problems (e.g., drugs, economy, gangs) and enact programs and policies that have been demonstrated to target the issue. For example, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) is not an effective way to reduce drug use among youth and adolescents, though communities continue to support this program because it is political popular. An alternative program that shows promise is called “Across Ages”; this is a mentoring based program that increases protective factors of youth who are at-risk for substance use. This program would be a better investment of community resources and has a better chance at demonstrating desirable outcomes than a program that is not effective.

A variety of programs and practices on a multitude of criminal justice topics (such as drug use, crime prevention, juveniles, law enforcement, crime victimization, etc.) have been rated by criminal justice scholars and reviews are available on the Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice’s website: CrimeSolutions.gov. This government website provides brief write-ups of programs and practices and ranks them based on rigorous scientific criteria. Programs and practices are deemed to be effective if multiple high-quality studies indicate that they reduce crime or improve public safety, promising if they demonstrate effectiveness but have not yet been evaluated in multiple rigorous studies, or as having no effects if the desired outcome of interest is not achieved.

Jay Kolick

Professor and Director of the Criminal Justice Program at Rosemont College, School of Graduate and Professional Studies
Jay Kolick
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

These all affect your insurance rates and finances - some more than others; crime affects your pockets likely the most out of these. A poor economy might prove beneficial in some cases, especially with tax purposes if it is in redevelopment stages that could provide a good investment. Dangerous work places you have some control over, as you don't necessarily have to live in certain communities unless you choose a career that mandates residency requirements such as a police officer or municipal / government employee.

Some natural disasters are also over rated as they can occur anywhere, however, in some cases, they can be avoided by not building in flood zones or on fault lines. A little prevention and preparedness on the consumers’ part can mitigate losses in the long run by researching the community, the types of disasters they are prone to, and ways to mitigate losses.

Crime and bad drivers should never be overlooked and cannot be overrated - your family's safety is paramount and again, some research on crime statistics and auto insurance rates before moving somewhere can impact your wallet greatly.

The key is the consumer must know how to conduct research in order to figure out which factors for their situation are overrated and which are a priority in deciding safety.

What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

Consumers should become educated on the financial markets, how credit works, and how to pay off debt. Additionally, keeping data, passwords, and personal information secured (buy a shredder and a password protected drive for records) is vital to maintaining their financial safety. Consumers are too casual with their personal identifying information in public, on social media, in daily interactions, and in their refuse. When consumers stop casually sharing vital information and begin safeguarding it, their privacy will go a long way in improving their financial safety.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Our government representatives need to start listening to the citizens who elect them and not special interest groups. There is a great need for returning back to basic crime reduction strategies where state and local policy makers serve out of civic duty and provide community oriented policing strategies that engage the community, and values the relationship between policing and the community built upon respect and trust for each other. When a partnership like this emerges a natural crime reduction relationship can commence to reduce crime in the community.

Michael P. Johnson

Associate Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs at University of Massachusetts Boston, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies
Michael P. Johnson
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

Risks are hard to assess and compare, and they depend a lot on one’s own characteristics (race, ethnicity, gender, income) and neighborhood characteristics. I might distinguish between ‘threats to life and limb’ (including perceived vs. actual threats) and threats to one’s sense of well-being, including financial security, access to social mobility, and level of acceptance/integration in local society and social networks.

For the majority, middle-class population, I suspect that threats from crime are over-rated, while threats to financial well-being, from health costs, to risk of foreclosure, to risk of job loss or sustained underemployment are most important. I want to emphasize that ‘financial well-being’ addresses not just day-to-day ability to pay one’s bills, but financial resources to weather setbacks, and public policy that reduces the risk of such setbacks occurring in the first place.

For minority and low-income populations, sustained threats to a sense of well-being, ranging from vulnerability to discrimination and financial uncertainty, which can manifest itself in reduced mental health and physical health, may be first, while perceived and actual threats to life and limb, through crime and impacts of the criminal justice system are perhaps most important, since that can result in loss of life, come a close second.

What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

First and foremost, advocate for public policies that can reduce the risk of adverse events that can reduce public safety: reduced risk of foreclosures and evictions due to predatory lending and predatory community development; reduced risk of bankruptcy from unexpected medical bills arising in part from widely-varying levels of affordable health coverage across states, and widely-varying levels of health protections across states, e.g., availability of guns, racial/ethnic disparities to environmental risks, improved access to jobs that pay a living wage, and improved access to affordable financial institutions like banks that can form an alternative to institutions such as check-cashing offices.

Second, advocate for policies that enable low- and moderate-income families to build wealth through community investments that stabilize and improve property values, reduce expenditures on commutes by supporting transit-oriented development, and reduce prices for food and other daily purchases by improving access to full-service grocery stores.

Third, increase financial literacy of all families to reduce dependence on credit cards, short-term loans and home equity loans and increase the level of savings in nonprofit financial institutions such as credit unions.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Provide more job opportunities and increase education quality for those at risk for criminal offending. Reduce the level of ‘criminalization’ of activities, e.g. low-level drug use and quality-of-life crimes that make young men of color much more at risk for arrest and prosecution than whites who commit similar acts. Enable those who have had access to the criminal justice system with opportunities to engage productively in their communities by e.g. voting and having access to public and subsidized housing, and state and federal student loans for higher education. Increase the quality and community engagement of policing. Provide more support for those dealing with substance abuse – more mental health treatment, drug abuse counseling, temporary housing for those at risk of homelessness. More police, more weapons, more enforcement, by itself, is not the answer. It may make the majority population feel better, but will not get at root causes of crime.

Meghan E. Hollis

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, School of Criminal Justice
Meghan E. Hollis
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

I am not sure that you can answer this question in a simple way like this. Different cities have different types of problems and concerns. In one city, you might be more concerned with crime. In another, the economy might be a problem. Natural disasters tend to cluster in certain areas as well. I can only really speak to crime as that is my area of expertise. There are a few problems with the way that people examine “crime” as an influence on where they might want to live. First, people might use UCR data from the FBI (which is typically the data included in websites like Citydata). Unfortunately, you can’t simply compare two cities on the crime “counts”. Most people are not sophisticated enough in their comparisons to calculate the rates per 100,000 – but that is what you need to use for comparison. An additional problem is that reporting practices are not the same from one place to another. I am working on some research on the consistency of police records with what is reported to the FBI. There is some filtering that occurs there in most cities.

Crime patterns are also not consistent across cities. You can have a high crime city and it is concentrated in a small pocket or two in the city, or you can have one where it is fairly distributed across the city. Some agencies have started putting their data online in maps, but they don’t put everything out there. This is not a full representation of the problems you might have in that area. I find that the best thing to do is to talk to residents in local neighborhoods and examine their perceptions of the good, the bad, and the ugly (when you are not a researcher with access to the crime data).

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Again, this is a complex question. There is not a simple answer I can provide. This is all context dependent. The recommendations I would make for Detroit, Michigan would be different from ones I would make for Washington, DC; Fort Worth, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Bloomington-Normal, Illinois; Bath, Michigan; etc. The key is to work with those with expertise in evidence-based policy and practice (and evidence-based crime prevention). We have a lovely database that is publicly available – the Campbell Collaboration – that houses systematic reviews on a variety of crime and justice topics. This is a good starting point for identifying efficacious versus ineffective programs. Working with a research partner always helps as you can have quality evaluation of programs, policies, and interventions as they are being implemented. This can aid in early identification of problems and application of evidence-based solutions. Again, things that work in one location might not work in another – the root problems may be different.

John Kilwein

Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Undergraduate Studies at West Virginia University
John Kilwein
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

There are good data out there that show people over-fear certain things, for example, plane crashes vs. auto accidents. From this list, I would believe that natural disasters, dangerous workplaces, and crime (for most Americans) in that order are over-feared by Americans.

What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

The usual – protect SSNs and other id numbers, check their credit rating annually, and look for suspicious activities on their accounts.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Suburbs, etc. don’t have real crime problems. The most glaring impediment to reducing crime in high crime areas is restoring/developing trust between the police and the community.

Robert T. Greenbaum

Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Associate Dean for Curriculum at Ohio State University, John Glenn College of Public Affairs
Robert T. Greenbaum
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

In terms of choosing in what state to live, threats to safety likely rank well behind factors such as employment opportunities, proximity to family, cost of living, and amenities such as the weather. Factors such as fear of crime typically play out at a much more local level, such as the neighborhood level.

What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

There are multiple aspects to improving financial safety.

In terms of financial assets, it is always good to start investing early in life, maintain a well-diversified portfolio that includes multiple months of emergency funds, and insure against catastrophic events. It is important to take a long-term view. For example, while cash is very safe in the short run, it is much riskier in the long run, as its value will erode over time as the cost of living increases. Further, while it is risky to over-extend one’s finances by taking on high levels of debt, it can also be risky to avoid debt at the cost of reduced liquidity.

In terms of financial safety, it is also important to remember to invest in oneself. Investments in education have very high lifetime returns and also help protect against changing economic conditions.

Investments in one’s health also can greatly enhance financial safety, as poor health can not only lead to high and unforeseen medical costs, but it can also affect one’s ability to productively earn a living.

What can state and local policymakers do to reduce crime in their communities?

Reducing crime takes a holistic approach that includes adequate law enforcement with well-trained police officers who make data-driven decisions; that includes a fair and efficient legal system; that includes building stable neighborhoods where residents take pride in their community and keep a close eye on things; that includes policies to help build stable families such that young people are optimistic about their futures; and that provides sufficient educational and economic opportunities.

Vicki L. Bogan

Associate Professor of Behavioral Finance at Cornell University, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
Vicki L. Bogan
What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

Numerous household surveys indicate that most individuals do not actively manage their finances. For example, the majority of adults admit they do not have a budget, do not pay all of their bills on time, and/or do not have any retirement savings. The fact that most people do not actively manage their finances leaves them at risk for a household financial catastrophe (bankruptcy, home foreclosure, etc.).

To start taking control of your financial life and to begin to build some financial security, here are several tips that may help:
  • Create a household expense budget and stick to it.
  • Save. Set savings goals. Save a specific percent of your monthly income for an emergency fund. A general rule is to try to accumulate an amount equal to at least 6-8 months of your household expenses. From each paycheck, be sure to set aside money for savings before you make non-essential purchases.
  • Manage your debt. Pay your credit card bill in full every month. If that is not possible, try to make more than the minimum payment. Be sure to make required payments on all loans that you have. Try to make extra payment on your highest interest rate loans until they are paid back.
  • Plan for your retirement. Start saving as early as possible for your retirement. If you have an employer sponsored retirement plan, set up automatic monthly contributions.

Georgette Chapman Phillips

Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics at Lehigh University
Georgette Chapman Phillips
There are many different potential threats to one’s safety: crime, bad drivers, poor economies, natural disasters, dangerous workplaces. In choosing a place to live, which factors are more or less overrated?

In choosing a place to live, the largest single purchase in most people's life is their home. As we saw during the economic downturn, people did not fully understand the intricacies of the loan documents they signed and subsequently lost their homes and their life savings. You also need to understand the neighborhood where your house is located. Real estate values are sometimes volatile and if you buy in a neighborhood that is "in transition" you take the risk that prices may stagnate/decrease making it difficult to sell if you need to do so. Make sure the price you pay reflects the neighborhood as it is today - not as the seller/broker thinks it will be tomorrow.

What tips do you have for consumers looking to improve their “financial” safety?

There are several obvious financial safety must-do's: keep your passwords secure, do not transact business on unsecured websites, etc. The less obvious steps include making sure your home/auto/health insurance is proper for your situation -- lack of proper insurance is a quick route to bankruptcy.

Also, you should always have a "rainy day" fund for financial emergencies. I subscribe to the "pay yourself first" method of saving so that you will be saving each month. I would also recommend at least once a year you check your credit rating. You don't want to find out about an adverse report at the same time that you need quick access to credit.

Methodology

In order to identify the safest states in which to live, WalletHub analyzed each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia across five key dimensions, including 1) Financial Safety, 2) Road Safety, 3) Workplace Safety, 4) Natural Disasters, and 5) Home & Community Safety. We then identified 20 metrics that are relevant to those dimensions. Our data set is listed below with the corresponding weight for each metric.

Financial Safety- Total Weight: 5

  • Percentage of the Population Lacking Health Insurance Coverage: Full Weight
  • Unemployment Rate: Double Weight
  • Foreclosure Rate: Full Weight

Road Safety - Total Weight: 5

  • Number of Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles of Travel: Double Weight
  • Number of DUIs per 100,000 Residents (based on number of arrests): Full Weight
  • Pedestrian Fatality Rate per 100,000 Residents (also includes pedacyclists): Double Weight

Workplace Safety - Total Weight: 5

  • Number of Fatal Occupational Injuries per 100,000 Employees: Double Weight
  • Injury & Illness Rate per 10,000 Full-Time Workers: Full Weight
  • Median Days Lost Due to Occupational Injuries & Illnesses: Full Weight

Natural Disasters - Total Weight: 5

  • Number of Climate Disasters (causing more than $1 billion in damage) in Past Decades: Full Weight
  • Estimated Property Losses from Natural Disasters per Capita: Full Weight

Home & Community Safety - Total Weight: 10

  • Total Law Enforcement Employees per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Murders & Non-Negligent Manslaughters per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Forcible Rapes per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Assaults per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Thefts per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Sex Offenders per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Drug Abuses per 100,000 Residents (based on number of arrests): Full Weight
  • Suicide Rate: Full Weight
  • Bullying Incidents Rate: Full Weight

 

Source: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Climatic Data Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Verisk Analytics, stopbullying.gov, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Crime Victims Center and CoreLogic.

Author

User
Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
1617 Wallet Points

Discussion

 
Jun 4, 2015
I agree with the findings. I have lived in two states: MA and now SC. It's amazing in SC how many road accidents there are. I thank God, I don't have to travel to work, because I'd be late every morning. This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. When I drive down the highway, it's not uncommon to see a car weaving back and forth in traffic. No one uses signals, and it's read more
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By: Gblues
Jun 3, 2015
Two things. Well, three.

1. Including Foreclosure rate is undoubtedly skewing the "Financial security" rankings, since your timeslice is right smack dab in the middle of the housing market crash. Under normal market conditions it might make a good datapoint, but I don't think it adds meaningful context for this kind of study.

2. "Forcible Rape"? As opposed to some other kind? *boggle* I really don't think you're trying to say "Well, we only counted incidents of read more
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By: Teegee
Jun 19, 2014
Just an observation ... of the top ten safest states, all ten were won by President Obama in 2012. Sixteen of the top twenty safest states went to Obama in 2012. Eight of the ten most dangerous state voted for the Republican candidate and when you enlarge that to the twenty most dangerous states you'll see that fifteen of them went to the Republican candidate in 2012. What does this mean? No name calling or read more
 
By: Teegee
Jun 19, 2014
@Teegee: Not so much the natural disaster information as the personal safety categories.
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Jun 2, 2015
@Teegee: Clearly, the data are fudged. Look at the community safety ratings for NY and NJ. NY is the safest?!?! BS. There's also no accounting for variations in how states define crimes. The definition of "sex offender" in the deep South is very different than that in the liberal meccas. The methodology of this analysis confuses correlation with causation and doesn't match crime statistics. Look at how the areas with the largest gun prohibitions are read more
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By: HCT001
Jun 18, 2014
Basing crime stats solely on number of arrests is not a true measure of the amount of crime in a state.
Property values for Natural Disaster losses could also be skewed unless adjustments were made to account for different real estate values in different regions.
Also unless it was a suicide bomber or as part of a murder-suicide, I am not sure how the suicide stat relates to overall community safety.
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By: Gkhawaii
Jun 18, 2014
Lucky we live Hawaii.
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Jun 17, 2014
Oklahoma weathered and is continuing to weather the recession quite well. Our unemployment rate remained in the upper 4. - 5 % throughout the recession.... Anywhere from 2 - 3 points below the national level. Yes weve been hit hard in the tornado and ice storms caregories and we have bible thumping politicians in office right now but I find it shocking that your data ranks OK so low. I agree with the other poster read more
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By: Harmiclir
Jun 17, 2014
I'm sorry but none of this makes a great deal of sense to me unless you tell me the time period you analyzed. That NYS ranks 51st in natural disaster tells me that you only looked at 2013 data....the period during which Hurricane Sandy struck. It makes no sense to me at all that NYS would be ranked lower than Florida or the Hurricane Belt. If you only used one year's data then your analysis read more
 
By: WalletHub
Jun 30, 2014
The estimated property losses from disasters are referring to the period 2010 – 2013 and encompass only estimates of insured property losses resulting from catastrophes.
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