Fact check: Today’s murder rate far lower than it was 45 years ago

Recently, certain politicians have been giving a false impression of the facts when discussing how widespread murder is in the U.S. While we would never urge you to vote for one candidate or party over another, we think it is crucial for everyone to be clear on how much violent crime there is in modern America.

Recently, the Washington Post quoted a candidate’s claim that “the murder rate in the United States, it’s the worst, the highest it’s been in 45 years.”

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program says that just the opposite is true.

Should we believe them? The UCR was created by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1929 because law enforcement, policymakers and the public rely on accurate crime statistics. The FBI has been collecting, publishing, and archiving nationwide statistics on an annual basis since 1930.

The raw numbers and trends are available on the FBI’s website, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics takes this information and parses out other trends for policymakers and the public.

Fact: The U.S. murder rate peaked in 1980 and has been dropping ever since

A claim that today’s murder rate is exceptionally high is attention-grabbing, but it isn’t true. In fact, the U.S. has been enjoying a long-term trend of murder rates dropping almost every year since the mid-90s.

According to the BJS, the U.S. murder rate began to rise gradually in the late 1960s, eventually reaching a peak in 1980 of 10.2 murders per 100,000 people. The rate fluctuated in the 8-9 range until 1996, when the rate began its current downward trend.

So let’s look back 45 years. The latest published information the UCR has available is from 2014, so the simplest thing to do is to compare the rates from 2014 and 45 years earlier, or 1969.

  • 2014: Approximately 4.5 murders per 100,000 people
  • 1969: Approximately 7.3 murders per 100,000 people

Criminal justice experts note that, based on preliminary data, 2015’s murder rate was a bit more than 10 percent higher than in 2014’s. Does that change the picture? Not really. Researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice caution that a single-year jump can seem important, but a detailed analysis leads them project the overall murder rate to continue trending downward.

Whatever your politics, you should make your decision based on facts, not scare tactics.