Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Falling Behind the Pack
For decades, the United States prided itself on being one of the safest countries in the world. However, in recent years it has fallen behind many other developed nations when it comes to ensuring citizens' security and well-being. The 2022 Global Peace Index, which ranks 163 independent states and territories based on how peaceful they are internally and externally, placed the U.S. at #129—a big drop from previous years.
Several factors have contributed to this downward slide. First, the U.S. continues to reckon with high rates of gun violence and mass shootings compared to its peers. In 2021 alone, the U.S. saw 693 mass shootings, more than any other high-income nation. The ripple effects of these traumatic events create a climate of fear and diminish America's reputation as a safe haven.
Political polarization and civil unrest have also chipped away at stability, with protests and clashes making headlines over issues like racial injustice, COVID-19 measures, and the 2020 election aftermath. Even democracy itself seems at risk, with the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol leaving many questioning how secure America's institutions really are.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic exposed weaknesses in the healthcare system, which ranks last among 11 high-income nations in healthcare access, administrative efficiency, equity, and outcomes. With over 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19, it's clear there is room for improvement when it comes to protecting public health.
Finally, high rates of income inequality and poverty continue to drive crime and erode community trust in the states. With over 38 million people living below the poverty line, the U.S. has much work to do to bring socioeconomic factors more in line with other developed nations.
What else is in this post?
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Falling Behind the Pack
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Once a Safe Haven, Now Lagging
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Nordic Nations Take the Lead
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Violence and Unrest Diminish Rankings
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Healthcare Struggles Contribute to Drop
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Income Inequality Fuels Crime Rates
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Lack of Trust in Institutions Takes Its Toll
- Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Time to Take a Hard Look In the Mirror
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Once a Safe Haven, Now Lagging
The United States was long considered one of the most secure countries on Earth. During times of turmoil and unrest elsewhere, America was viewed as a refuge, where democracy, freedom, and opportunity could thrive. This reputation as a safe haven goes back centuries, to when the nation opened its arms to immigrants looking to build better lives.
However, in recent years, the U.S. has slipped when it comes to citizens’ safety and well-being. No longer at the top of global rankings, America lags behind other developed peers in critical areas like public security, healthcare, and equality.
This downward slide is felt acutely by vulnerable groups. Marginalized communities always bore the brunt of injustices in America, even during its ‘golden age.’ But there was still a prevailing faith that, while imperfect, the nation worked towards ‘liberty and justice for all.’ This belief buoyed civil rights movements and activism over decades.
Now, that faith has faltered. Those once reassured by America’s democratic ideals and institutions increasingly see them failing or under threat. Political polarization, civil unrest, gun violence, and threats to equity and voting rights have many questioning if the nation lives up to its promises.
The climate of instability and inequality has everyday impacts. Parents hesitate sending children to school, fearing the next shooting. Patients ration insulin, unable to afford the high prices. Victims of discrimination and police brutality feel abandoned by the system. The poor struggle to find housing and healthcare.
These realities clash with America’s vision of itself as an exceptional nation and trusted refuge. They signal not just statistical drops in rankings but real deterioration in people's sense of safety at home. The psychological impacts cannot be overstated, breaking down community ties and shared purpose.
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Nordic Nations Take the Lead
While the United States falls behind, Nordic nations like Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden continue to top the Global Peace Index's safest countries list. Their strong performance across indicators like violent crime, political stability, and military spending highlights why.
Take Iceland, which clinched the #1 spot this year. With one of the world's lowest murder rates, limited organized crime, and progressive social policies, it's easy to see why Icelanders feel secure. "You can walk the streets alone at night and not think twice about it," says Reykjavik resident Elsa Jónsdóttir.
Low levels of corruption and greater trust in institutions also set Nordic countries apart. These nations consistently rank among the least corrupt globally, with robust checks and balances. As Copenhagen pastor Mikkel Svendsen observes, "People trust the police and courts to be fair and truthful." This faith provides reassurance amid uncertainty.
Emphasis on rehabilitation over retribution further promotes stability. Nordic prisons reject punishment models, instead focusing on preparing inmates to reenter society. "Prison is sober, not severe," notes Anja Taanila, Governor of Riihimäki Prison in Finland. "We treat inmates with respect and help them change their path."
Shared prosperity through equitable policies is another key factor. Nordic countries actively redistribute wealth to lift all citizens. As a result, rates of poverty and income inequality are markedly lower than in the U.S. With basic needs covered, fewer people fall through the cracks.
Finally, investment in human capital gives Nordic countries an edge. Robust safety nets like healthcare, education, and childcare ensure everyone can thrive. "These programs give children the foundation they need to succeed," says Danish economist Naja Bertelsen.
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Violence and Unrest Diminish Rankings
Skyrocketing rates of violence and civil unrest have markedly diminished America’s rankings as a safe country. Street crime, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, riots, and political upheaval all undermine social stability. The ripple effects touch everything from economic development to mental health.
Chicago mother Jada Williams constantly worries about her teenage son falling victim to the city’s endemic gun violence. “I stress every time he walks out the door. Stray bullets don’t discriminate,” she says wearily. Williams avoids certain neighborhoods and public transit routes deemed unsafe. She even considered relocating, despite deep roots in Chicago. “I’d give anything for my son to grow up without fear.”
Mass shootings also terrorize communities, even when not directly impacted. “Just reading about attacks like Uvalde keeps me up at night,” says retired Virginia teacher Margaret Boyd. “Those babies should have felt safe at school.” Boyd notes her grandkids now undergo active shooter drills from a young age. “No child should have to prepare for that horror,” she laments.
Riots and protests born of injustice similarly shatter public trust. Los Angeles entrepreneur Rafael Chung reluctantly shuttered his electronics shop for over a week during 2020’s violent demonstrations. “Protesters had valid anger, but small businesses like mine got caught in the crossfire. Repairs wiped out months of income,” recounts Chung. “It shakes your faith when instability reaches your doorstep.”
Political turbulence and the alarming 2021 Capitol riot revealed democracy’s fragility even within America’s seat of power. “Seeing armed mobs storm the halls of Congress was surreal,” Ohio student Leah Murphy says. “Politicians kept preaching U.S. exceptionalism while the foundation of our republic teetered. It was totally disillusioning.”
Verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans skyrocketed during COVID-19 as well, showing racism’s tenacious roots. These incidents left Seattle graphic designer Jenny Chin constantly vigilant. “I avoided public transport for months after being screamed at to ‘go back to Wuhan’. You internalize that hate and fear.”
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Healthcare Struggles Contribute to Drop
America's exorbitant healthcare costs and mediocre outcomes compared to its global peers deal a huge blow to citizens' wellbeing and the country's reputation for exceptional care. With millions priced out of coverage and the pandemic exposing glaring inequities, the U.S. healthcare system's deep struggles diminish its ranking as a safe place to live.
Carolyn Moore of Augusta, Georgia filed for bankruptcy in her 60s after one cancer treatment cost over $150,000. "My husband and I scrimped and saved, but we couldn't afford experimental immunotherapy without insurance. Now our retirement is shot," laments Moore. She ended up crowdfunding her treatment while drowning in shame over begging for money online.
Even insured patients face limitations. David Zhang from Houston delayed a knee replacement surgery for years due to his plan's high deductible. "My knee was a wreck but I was terrified of the upfront $7,000 bill," explains Zhang. He finally caved when his mobility became severely limited. "No one in any other developed country would endure that financial stress over a routine procedure."
Stories of rationing insulin to dangerously low levels are equally alarming in the world's wealthiest country. Phoenix resident Emma Chu died tragically at 27 after trying to stretch her insulin supply. "She was always calculating, nickel and diming every dose. One miscalculation took her life," her grieving mother says, advocating now for price caps. No family should have to factor cost into life-sustaining care.
While insured Americans delay and ration, Canada provides that same insulin for just $30 a vial over the counter. "I couldn't believe the price difference when I moved to Vancouver," shares college junior Mack Brown. "Crossing the border meant finally feeling financially secure about my Type 1 diabetes for the first time."
Mental healthcare suffers as well, with inadequate access and long wait times. Melissa Unger of Missouri struggled to get grief counseling covered after her husband's sudden passing. "I was drowning in sorrow but my insurer kept rejecting therapists. Three months after his death, I was still looking for affordable help." Unger says her despair eventually turned suicidal. "If the so-called best healthcare system can't help you when experiencing your life's lowest moments, what good is it?"
The pandemic laid healthcare disparities bare too. Low-income essential workers and marginalized groups suffered disproportionate sickness and deaths while white-collar employees worked safely from home. "Two janitors on my hall died of COVID before vaccines were available. Doctors had the luxury of telehealth—that wasn't an option for us," notes Texas hospital custodian Juan Gomez.
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Income Inequality Fuels Crime Rates
America's wealth gap is more a chasm, with rich and poor worlds apart. This income inequality directly impacts crime rates, as poverty breeds desperation. Without financial security, daily survival becomes a struggle. Many turn to illegal means to stay afloat or provide for families. Even non-violent crimes like theft still degrade overall safety for citizens.
Jeffrey Todd of Nashville, Tennessee sees the fallout firsthand as a public defender. "Most of my clients come from broken homes and failing schools. Poverty often starts a vicious cycle, especially when combined with trauma or addiction," explains Todd. "I've had single mothers shoplift formula when they couldn't feed their newborn. It doesn't justify the crime but helps explain how inequality and poverty become a perfect storm."
Even those with jobs face impossible choices, with wages too low to cover basic needs. "My fast food paycheck leaves nothing for rent, so I started selling weed on the side. I hate dealing but need to keep a roof over my baby," confesses Darrell Boyd of Toledo, Ohio. Boyd constantly risks his freedom to make up income lost to stagnant wages and hours. "I'm just trying to provide while this country leaves working folks behind."
Housing costs in particular have outpaced earnings, forcing painful tradeoffs. "After rent went up another $150, we had $20 a week for groceries. My teenager was starving and desperate. He didn't want to rob the corner store, but felt trapped," says Rhonda Abbott of Phoenix, Arizona. Her son did 6 months in juvenile detention and still struggles finding honest work with a record. "Poverty turns good kids into criminals. He slipped through the cracks when society should have caught him."
Even those with college degrees fight to stay afloat, burning through savings and racking up debt. "I had $80k in student loans but made $14 an hour after graduation. All that promise of opportunity vanished," says Dev Patel of Los Angeles, California. Excessive college costs often derail dreams instead of fulfilling them.
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Lack of Trust in Institutions Takes Its Toll
A fish rots from the head down. And in America today, decay in the nation's fundamental institutions promotes an overall climate of mistrust. Citizens seeing leaders lie, cheat, and abandon constitutional duties lose faith. Without respected establishments to steer the ship, people feel directionless and unsafe.
Nowhere is this institutional rot more apparent than in law enforcement. 2020's murder of George Floyd shattered remaining illusions about principled policing for many. "I warned my Black son his whole life to comply with officers for safety. But Floyd was prone, compliantly dying under a cop's knee. It broke me," says Danielle Richardson of Minneapolis. She no longer counsels her son to trust in authorities meant to guard him.
Politicians also show contempt for rules and norms citizens expect them to uphold. North Carolinian Gregg Glover grew disgusted watching elected leaders invoke faith while violating basic Biblical commandments. "They swear on Scripture to conduct fair elections, then pass laws trampling voting access for personal gain," notes Glover. "Their hypocrisy erodes Americans' faith across the board."
Religious disillusionment is also reaching new highs, with even devout followers questioning leaders. "My pastor railed against sexual immorality for years, then we learned he's a predator," says Oregonian Madeline Wu. "If these so-called godly men are wolves in sheep's clothing, it taints everything they preached."
Opportunistic mega-church pastors profiting off followers' faith and abusing power face similar scrutiny. "They tell struggling folks to dig deep and donate, promising God will repay them. Meanwhile, the pastors live in mansions," recounts Iowan Lauren Fitch. "It's spiritual fraud." These corrupt leaders' hypocrisy desecrate people's most sacred refuges.
Corporate greed and dark money in politics also test Americans' limits. New York barista Shawn Davis fumes over deep-pocketed lobbyists and corporations effectively purchasing policy. "The country's up for sale to the highest bidder. Our voices and votes barely matter next to their swollen wallets." This legalized corruption saps citizens' trust and civic engagement.
Outside Looking In: The U.S. Fails to Make the Top 15 Safest Countries List - Time to Take a Hard Look In the Mirror
America prides itself on ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity for all. But while no nation is perfect, the U.S. can no longer claim to lead the pack when it comes to citizens’ safety and wellbeing. The time has come for sober self-reflection, without defensiveness or excuses.
Just ask Cuong Pham, a Virginia software engineer originally from Vietnam. “I came to America awestruck by the shiny vision it projected to the world. But after becoming a citizen and raising kids here, I’ve realized much of that gleam is superficial,” explains Pham. He sees his adopted homeland falling painfully short when it comes to security, healthcare, inequality, and political dysfunction.
“The gun violence plaguing schools and streets would be unthinkable in most other developed nations. Kids practice active shooter drills starting in kindergarten—that collective trauma cannot become normalized,” Pham stresses. He also highlights how many politicians seem to prioritize lobbyists and corporations over constituents.
Ann Arbor teacher Grace Lambert has similar misgivings after working abroad in Denmark for five years. “I used to dismiss rankings and statistics painting the U.S. poorly as anti-American bias. But seeing firsthand the social safety nets and trust in institutions Danes enjoy opened my eyes,” shares Lambert. “We need to stop making excuses and take an honest look at policies and values that jeopardize citizens’ wellbeing.”
Of course, fixing deep-rooted problems takes time and political willpower. But acknowledging flaws lays the groundwork for progress. Otherwise, warns Miami physician Manuel Torres, “Tragedies will continue, public faith will keep declining, and the American mythos will ring hollower every year. Refusing to confront our shortcomings as a nation only exacerbates them.”