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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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.

  • 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.

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?

Expand chart
Data: FBI and the New York Times (2020 estimate); Chart: Axios Visuals

Go deeper

D.C.'s violence interruption program to expand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The violence interruption program Cure the Streets will expand next year to four D.C. neighborhood areas to address gun violence.

Driving the news: D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine yesterday announced that the initiative, run through his office since 2018, will grow to ten locations this coming spring.

Exclusive analysis: Tampa Bay's true unemployment rate

Expand chart
Data: Ludwig Institute; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater metro was among 16 of the 98 most populous areas in the country to actually grow living-wage jobs during the pandemic, according to analysis that purports to measure a more accurate unemployment rate.

Why it matters: When we think about unemployment, we don't often think about the people who are underemployed or don't make a livable wage.

Nov 30, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

The Twin Cities' "true" unemployment rate

Expand chart
Data: Ludwig Institute; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios. Note: The map shows the change in the measure of the “True Rate of Unemployment Out of Population," which includes 16 and 17 year olds and part-time workers looking for full-time work.

While the Twin Cities metro's unemployment rate is technically a low 2.6%, the "true" number of people who are unemployed — by one analysis — is much higher than that.

How it works: The Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity uses U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to factor in not just those out of work who are looking for a job, but also those employed in a position earning less than a living wage.

  • The institute pegs the livable threshold at $20,000 annually — a conservative national estimate.

Why it matters: When we look at unemployment, we don't often think about the people who are underemployed or who don't make a livable wage.