If the FBI data released next week shows what's expected — that 2020 saw the highest single-year spike in U.S. murders in at least six decades — experts say the sudden job losses, fears and other jolts to society at the start of COVID-19 will likely have been the overwhelming drivers.
Why it matters: Many Democrats already feared that rising crime could hurt their party in the 2022 midterms.
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Even with such a spike, the murder rate would remain far lower than it was through much of the 1980s and 1990s.
But a historic single-year spike in the same year that some Democrats called to redirect police funding because of the killing of George Floyd and other examples of systemic racism could be an easy, if misleading, campaign argument for Republicans to make.
Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Wednesday that the FBI's early data shows a 29% spike in murders last year. That would be the biggest single-year increase since national record-keeping began, in 1960.
The FBI did not respond to inquiries from Axios. But many major U.S. cities, from Atlanta to Albuquerque, reported a surge in violent crime in 2020 including jumps in homicides and gun-related crimes.
There were 5.8 homicides per 100,000 California residents in 2020, the highest rate in the state since 2008, according to preliminary data from the California Department of Public Health.
What they're saying: William Wagstaff, a defense attorney in New York and New Jersey, tells Axios that the stresses of not being able to interact with other people and the social-economic conditions from shutdowns likely played in role in violent crime spikes.
"You have unemployment, you have COVID, you have all of these other things that have upended the way people were able to live," he said. "All could have contributed to a spike in violence."
A nationwide court backlog caused by the pandemic also may have contributed to rising crime, Robert Goldman, a licensed psychologist and attorney in Commack, N.Y., tells Axios. The backlog, he said, prevented some suspects from facing accountability or receiving the resources they need to fight addiction: "It could have contributed to recidivism rates."
What we're watching: Does 2021 trend better, or worse?
Data: FBI and the New York Times (2020 estimate); Chart: Axios Visuals
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