The age-adjusted national homicide death rate jumped 30% in 2020, a record increase, and rose another 5% in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2021 homicide rate of 8.2 deaths per 100,000 people was 55% higher than a decade prior. Still, US homicide rates remain below the record highs of the 1970s and early 1990s.
The CDC defines “homicide” as death caused by “injuries inflicted by another person with intent to injure or kill, by any means,” as opposed to death by suicide, during war, or by law enforcement in the line of duty. Rates are calculated by looking at homicides per 100,000 people, making it possible to compare the number of incidents across cities and states regardless of population sizes. The CDC also provides age-adjusted data, which allows for comparisons between populations over time that are more accurate than crude death rates alone.
Homicide rates by state
Homicide rates noticeably vary by state. In 2021, three states had an effective murder rate of zero — that is, a rate so low that zero is the closest round number — while two states exceeded 20.
Although Washington, DC, had a higher homicide death rate (33.3 homicide deaths per 100,000 people) than every state, it’s not a state — given its population density, a fairer comparison is to counties in major metropolitan areas. Among those, Washington, DC, has the 7th-highest crude homicide death rate (not age-adjusted) after the counties that are home to St. Louis, Missouri; New Orleans, Louisiana; Baltimore, Maryland; Memphis, Tennessee; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Richmond, Virginia.
How the murder rate has changed over time
The national homicide rate, 7.8 deaths per 100,000 people, has declined since the early 1990s when it was 9.9.
In 2020, the US recorded the biggest single-year homicide rate increase in modern history, jumping from 6.0 in 2019 to 7.8 in 2020. The previous record annual increase was a 20 percent increase between 2000 (5.9) to 2001 (7.1), which the CDC attributes to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
From 2005 to 2021, Mississippi had the biggest homicide rate increase, from 9 to 23.7, adding more than 14 homicides per 100,000 people. Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, and Illinois had the next-biggest increases.
Five states — New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Idaho — had modest decreases, by one homicide per 100,000 people or fewer.
USAFacts relies on CDC data because of its more complete dataset and consistency over time. The CDC collects homicide data from standardized death certificates, which contain medical information typically entered by coroners or medical examiners.
The FBI, meanwhile, relies on local law enforcement agencies voluntarily reporting crime data, which many do not. The FBI also switched its data collection system in 2021, meaning 2021 homicide data cannot be directly compared to pre-2020 data. Many law enforcement agencies have not reported crime data under the new system, so the FBI’s estimates for 2021 are skewed by low response rates.
The CDC does not classify situations where a person is killed by law enforcement personnel or other individuals with legal authority while they are acting in an official capacity as homicides. Deaths resulting from acts of war are also not classified as homicides.
Age-adjusted data helps to compare health data over time or between groups more fairly by accounting for the age differences in populations. For example, suppose Population A has a higher average age than Population B. In that case, age-adjusting ensures that Population A's naturally higher death rate due to age doesn't skew comparisons of overall health between the two. This measurement makes death statistic comparisons more accurate than crude death rates.