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5 Facts About Murder in the U.S.

Murder rates have spiked, and Americans are worried. How can you make a difference?

Americans are worried about rising violence. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, 61% of adults who responded were concerned about violent crime.1 It’s no coincidence that the murder rate in the United States had spiked the previous year.


A Historic Rise

From 2019 to 2020, Pew reported, the murder rate increased about 30%, according to separate studies by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The rate was 6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2019 and 7.8 per 100,000 in 2020, with respective murder totals of about 16,670 and 21,570.1 The greatest previous rise was from 2000 to 2001—driven by the 9/11 attacks. Otherwise, it was between 1904 and 1905, CNN reported, an increase likely exaggerated by anomalies in record keeping at the time.2

The Rate Had Been Dropping

The murder rate in the United States in 2020 was below the rate of the early 1990s and well below rates of the 1970s and 1980s, according to the CDC. The shocking part of the recent news was the “sharp rise” in rates from one year to the next, PEW reported, a rise that came after the rate had “generally trended downward in recent decades.”3

Small Cities, Big Problem

Conventional wisdom would point to large cities as the likely focus of climbing murder rates. But a review of murder rates by city showed small cities - those with populations between 10,000 and 25,000 - saw a 30 percent increase in killings from January to September of 2020.4 Likewise, less populous states were hit hardest, with Montana and South Dakota leading the way with 84% and 81% increases, respectively. New York and Pennsylvania, meanwhile, saw increases of 47% and 39%.5

More Murders, Same Victims

Big city or small, murders tended to affect the same victims: African Americans in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The rate was just worse than ever. In 2020, The New York Times reported that African Americans were eight times more likely to be murdered than white Americans.6 As Richard Rosenfeld, criminology expert and author of multiple reports on national crime trends, explained to the Guardian, “What we’re not seeing is a spreading out of homicide.”7

No Simple Answers

You might expect that the social peculiarities of 2020 offer some explanation for the rise in murder rate in the United States. There are at least three popular theories as to the underlying cause, according to news website Vox: COVID-19’s disruption to daily life, the breakdown of police-community relations after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020 and subsequent national protests, and a record increase in gun purchases.8 Regarding the last item, 77% of murders in 2020 involved a gun.9 As Vox states, “The research is consistent on this point: More guns lead to more gun violence.”10

Be a Part of the Solution

Like most social phenomena, this one is complicated—difficult to explain, difficult to fix. If the challenge of finding answers and the hope of making a difference is something that interests you, a doctoral degree can give you the skills to help solve difficult issues facing our country.

Walden University can give you the knowledge and skills to pursue a career as a criminal investigator or other criminal justice jobs. Through its online PhD in Criminal Justice program, you can do scholarly research that builds on your personal experience in preparation for work in law enforcement, homeland security, or other fields. Toward this end, the Walden doctoral degree program offers seven specializations in addition to the General Program: Emergency Management, Global Leadership, Homeland Security Policy and Coordination, Justice Administration, Law and Public Policy, Online Teaching in Higher Education, and Public Management and Leadership.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs online, including a PhD in Criminal Justice. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Note on Licensure: Walden’s PhD in Criminal Justice program is not considered a Professional Peace Officer Education Program for the state of Minnesota, and is not designed or intended to prepare graduates for licensure as a peace officer, police officer or other law enforcement officer in any state.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,