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Peace isn't where you find it

The Long Valley Advocate of Cascade, Idaho

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Idaho is not the most peaceful state in the nation.

You would think that Elk City or Yellow Pine would be the most peaceful lifestyle choice around. But the Institute for Economics and Peace has released its first survey on U.S. national peace. Maine comes in first, while Louisiana is the worst. Idaho is the 16th most peaceful.

Incredibly, the most peaceful region in the U.S. was the Northeast. That includes Maine, but also New Jersey, which ranks as the 26th most peaceful state, while New York comes in at 29th.

The institute defines peace as the "absence of violence," and focused on homicide rates, percentage of population that is jailed, availability of small arms, number of police officers and overall violent crime rate.

Having plenty of room under the Big Sky apparently doesn't mean much any more, as three Midwestern states - North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana - all experienced the three most significant declines in peacefulness.

The absence of violence is heavily influenced not by what Idaho has, but what it is lacking, such as economic opportunity, education and health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has taken incredible funding hits in the last few years, especially bad for people in rural areas.

State leaders say they had to keelhaul education this year, while at the same time praising the Idaho schools. Looks like those effects will be felt some years ahead.

You don't have to point out the state of the local economy as Valley and Adams counties were neck and neck for the highest jobless rate in the state over the winter.

The institute says increasing incarceration rates during the 1990s coincided with falling violent crime and homicides. But those rates started to grow in the mid-2000s, while the states expended more and more on prison cells. Substance abuse programs would be more helpful for most inmates except for the violent ones.

So, peace apparently doesn't hinge on fewer people per square mile, as much as a lack of things that help make life more fruitful such as education or health care.

The good news is that peace in the United States has improved since 1995, primarily driven by a substantial decrease in violent crime.

Louisiana has also been ranked as the laziest U.S. state in a separate study last year. So, kicking back on the bayou doesn't mean as much compared to the ongoing social unrest caused by Hurricane Katrina and last year's Gulf oil spill.

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Original Publication Date: April 13, 2011

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