Trump repeats inaccurate campaign rhetoric in his inauguration speech.
by German Lopez
January 20, 2017
In Donald Trump’s inauguration speech on Friday, the new president referred to the country as being under siege of gangs and crime, robbing the nation “of so much unrealized potential.” “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump declared.
It echoes remarks Trump made on the campaign trail and afterward, including several rallies where he claimed that “the murder rate in the United States is the highest it’s been in 45 years.”
That would be very worrying if it were true. Thankfully, it’s not. At all.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, the murder rate was 4.9 per 100,000 people in 2015, the latest year of data available. That is an 11 percent increase from 2014. But it is lower than it was in 1970, 45 years before, when the murder rate was 7.9. It was also lower than it was at any point from 1965 to 2009 — making the 2015 rate, at worst, a six-year high. And it’s half the rate of what it was 25 years ago, in 1991, and less than half of what it was at several periods in the 1970s and 1980s.
So no, murder is not at the highest it’s been in the US in 45 years. Not even remotely close.
One possibility is Trump, back in October, was trying to say that murder in 2015 saw its highest increase in 45 years, which he also said at the second presidential debate. As PolitiFact found, this is mostly accurate: The number of murders rose by 10.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, the highest since an 11.1 percent spike from 1970 to 1971.
But it’s important to put this in context. Back when the number of murders increased by more than 11 percent in 1971, the rate rose from 7.9 to 8.6. This not only continued what was already a near-decade of increases, but it was part of a huge crime wave that lasted all the way to the 1990s, when the crime and murder rates began to drop.
THE 2015 INCREASE IN THE MURDER RATE CAME AFTER DECADES OF DROPS
By contrast, the 2015 increase in the murder rate came after decades of drops. The 2015 uptick is in comparison to 2014, which, at 4.4 murders per 100,000 people, had the lowest murder rate tracked by the FBI since at least 1960. We also have no idea if the 2015 murder rate spike constitutes a shift in crime’s long-term trend downward; it is entirely possible, as was the case in 2005 and 2006, that the murder rate merely rose temporarily in 2015 only to later continue the long-term trend down.
Other crime rates reported by the FBI also didn’t see nearly as pronounced of changes: The violent crime rate went up by 3 percent (to 372.6 per 100,000 people, which is still below 2012’s levels), rape by 4 percent, aggravated assault by 4 percent, and robbery by less than 1 percent. Burglary and larceny rates dropped — with property crime rates falling to levels lower than any point after 1966. (One caveat is the murder rate is more accurate than other crime figures; it’s more likely police and victims are underreporting other types of crime, whereas a dead body is difficult to ignore.)
That’s not to say the 2015 murder increase isn’t alarming. Criminologists say it’s worth paying attention to, although we don’t really know why the rate increased in 2015 just yet. As John Jay College criminologist Jeffrey Butts put it to the Guardian, “You lost 50 pounds. You gained back a couple. You’re not fat. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at your behavior, because the trend is not good.”
And it’s true that America has more violent crime than other developed nations, which the research suggests is in large part thanks to America’s extraordinary levels of gun ownership.
But paying attention doesn’t mean we need to exaggerate the level of the recent increase and suggest America is now facing a massive, historical wave of “carnage.” After all, even after the increase in 2015, the murder rate is still lower than it was at any point during the 44-year period from 1965 to 2009. It’s still pretty safe, historically speaking, to be an American.