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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

Fatal encounters with police remain high after George Floyd's death

A mural in honor of George Floyd. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The number of people killed in encounters with police has not fallen despite the uproar over the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright last year, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Although ex-officers Derek Chauvin and Kimberly Potter were convicted for their roles in the deaths of Floyd and Wright respectively, "accountability for officers who kill remains elusive," the Times writes.

Kate Marino, author of Markets
54 mins ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.