Yet across the country, and especially in the South, residents are still alarmed about crime. Many report a surge in property crimes – chiefly break-ins targeting flat-screen TVs.
Criminologists have expected crime rates to rise – especially as young unemployed males turn to illegal enterprises for cash during the recession. But so far, at least, the current pattern seems more akin to what happened during the Great Depression, when crime rates did not spike dramatically despite – or perhaps because of – widespread poverty.
"It's kind of understood, but without being proven, if you've got an economic crisis that you're likely going to see an upswing in property crimes," says Stephen Handelman, director of the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College in New York. "Yet if everybody's in the same bag, then individual neighborhoods are not necessarily as threatened as when you have sharp disparities in income, as you did in the 1990s."
"The jury is still out on whether property crimes have gone up as a result of the recession," he adds.
The report is gleaned from law enforcement reports spanning 2007 and 2008 – including a period that preceded the recession's grip. The data show that the murder rate dropped 4 percent, and the total number of reported rapes dropped to 89,000 – the lowest level in 20 years. Car thefts were down 12 percent.
Yet some property crimes – including burglaries – did see a bump upward, by 2 percent
Regionally, the South had the highest crime rate, with 4,315 reported violent and property crimes per 100,000 people. The region with the lowest crime rate was the Northeast, which had 2,620 reported crimes per 100,000 people.
One reason for the disconnect between perception of crime and the hard stats: Crime, like politics, is local. A 2007 survey by the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice showed that more than 53 percent of Americans said crime was an equal concern to healthcare and the economy. While people may not have seen crime as a problem generally, they often pointed to crime in their own neighborhood as a major concern.
African-Americans report the greatest concerns about crime. For good reason: Nearly half of the 14,000 murder victims in the report were black. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of those who were arrested for all crimes were white, according to the report.
Blacks make up about 13 percent of the US population; whites make up about 70 percent.
"Even though globally crime is down and people sense that, they don't necessarily feel safer," says Mr. Handelman. "It depends on where you live. People in inner cities and rural areas may be more worried" whereas people who live in the suburbs have fewer fears, he says.
Follow us on Twitter.