There were an estimated 1.2 million murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults in the United States in 2015. The violent crime rate of 373 incidents per 100,000 Americans rose 3.1% from 2014.
In the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, there were 324 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, lower than the national violent crime rate.
Several social and economic factors are associated with crime. According to Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at nonprofit economic and social policy research organization Urban institute, the lack of legal, gainful employment opportunities in a metro area is one of the primary drivers of crime.
The fewer residents with access to legal means of income, the more likely they may be to turn to crime. One such indicator of access to legal means of income is the unemployment rate. Those unable to find work are among the most likely to commit a crime, out of either financial necessity or other motivations. An estimated 4.4% of the D.C.-area workforce was unemployed in 2015, lower than the 5.3% national unemployment rate.
The age composition of a metro area can have an impact on the violent crime rate as well. Young males between the ages of 15 and 24 are more likely to commit crime than any other demographic group. In Washington, an estimated 6.4% of residents are males between 15 and 24 years old, a smaller share than the 7.0% of Americans who belong to the age group.
When a violent crime is committed, many people, in addition to the direct victim or victims, are adversely affected. Living in a dangerous neighborhood can create distress and have a negative impact on mental health. In Washington, adults report being mentally unhealthy for an average of 2.9 days in a month. Nationwide, the average American reports feeling in such a poor mental state for 3.5 days each month.
Of the 19,812 violent crimes that were reported in Washington last year, 7,531 were robberies. Robberies comprised 38.0% of all violent crimes in the metro area, a larger share than the corresponding national figure of 27.3%.
The 327 murders that were reported in Washington comprised 1.7% of the total violent crime reported in the metro area last year. By comparison, 1.3% of all violent crimes reported nationwide were murders. The life expectancy at birth in the metro area is 80.4 years, roughly two years longer than the national life expectancy of 78.5 years.
While a high murder rate can marginally reduce the life expectancy for residents in a metro area, life expectancy tends to be lower in high crime neighborhoods for many of the same socioeconomic reasons that also tend to drive violent crime higher. A high school education, for example, can significantly increase the odds of finding gainful employment and reduce the likelihood of resorting to crime. Employed residents are also more likely to be able to afford a healthy diet and the means to a longer life in general. Cities with a high educational attainment rate often have long life expectancies and little violent crime. In the D.C. area, 90.2% of adults have at least a high school diploma, larger than the national high school attainment rate of 87.1%.