How Social Security Works: A Guide to Social Security Benefits

If you’ve held a 9-5 job, you’ve likely heard of social security. This federal program serves as a sort-of savings account that older Americans can tap into to provide income for their retirement. While most people associate social security with retirement benefits, it also provides disability benefits and support for family members who lose a spouse or parent. 

Statistics show about 180 million people worked and paid social security taxes and about 65 million people received monthly benefits as of June 2020. Most of the beneficiaries, about 49 million people, are current retirees, according to the Social Security Administration.

To better understand what social security benefits are, how the federal government calculates them, and what you can financially expect to get later on in life, this guide should provide answers to commonly asked questions. 

How does social security work?

When a person works, he or she pays into the social security system. Take a look at a pay stub. You’ll notice that your employer has taken out FICA taxes, that’s for social security retirement benefits. Most employees pay 6.2% of their income into social security and the employer matches that, paying another 6.2%, for a total of 14.4% of income delivered to the social security system. 

As a person works and pays into the system, credits are earned. Eligibility is based on earning credits. Usually, a person needs 40 credits, which are usually accumulated after about 10 years of work, to be eligible for social security benefits. 

Senior citizens choose when to start collecting retirement income. It can be collected at full retirement age, where a person receives full benefits or collected earlier, at age 62. If a person decides to collect early retirement at the age of 62, the income will be less than it would be if the person waited until full retirement age.

What age is considered full retirement age? It varies based on the year a person is born. The chart below explains when a person is considered full retirement age:

Year of birth

Full retirement age
1943-1954 66
1955 66 years and 2 months
1956 66 years and 4 months
1957 66 years and 6 months
1958 66 years and 8 months
1959 66 years and 10 months
1960 or later 67

When a person is ready to start collecting social security, he or she must apply for the benefits about four months before the payments are expected to start. Funds are deposited directly into a bank account or placed on a prepaid debit card.

How much money can you expect from social security?

The amount of money a person gets for monthly income depends on lifetime earnings and at what age the benefits are claimed. As of June 2020, the average monthly payout was $1514, which is about $18,170 a year. While that might not seem like a lot, keep in mind that social security isn’t meant to be a person’s sole source of retirement income. It’s meant to serve as a supplement. 

Of course, knowing how much money will likely come from social security can help with retirement plans. 

The federal government has a formula to calculate retirement benefits. To start, actual earnings are adjusted or indexed to account for changes in wages since a person began working. Then, an average monthly earning is reached by looking at the 35 best-paid years. From there, a primary insurance amount is computed, which is the amount a person would earn monthly if the person waited to claim benefits at full retirement age. 

Since the math behind social security benefits is a bit complicated to grasp, the Social Security Administration has a retirement estimator tool on its website ( that can provide this figure easily. A “My Social Security” account must be set up first.

Before using the estimator, there are certain factors that can change a retirement benefit that retired workers should be aware of, which include:

  • The age at which social security retirement benefits are claimed alters the monthly amount.
  • Cost of living adjustments are added to benefits when a person reaches 62 and continues up to the year a person starts receiving benefits.
  • A person can delay the start of their own retirement benefits past his or her full retirement age, which can increase monthly benefits. 
  • The payout formula is different for government workers with a pension that’s not tied to social security. Government employees should use this planning tool for additional information.  

What should you know about disability benefits?

Social security benefits are also available for those with disabilities from two different programs: Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance. 

Supplemental Security Income is for elderly, blind, or disabled adults or children with little to no income or assets. Social Security Disability Insurance provides benefits for people who have worked enough to qualify for social security benefits, which is usually about 10 working years.

To learn more, check out our guide to benefits for people with disabilities

What should you know about social security survivor benefits?

Social security funds are also used to pay survivor benefits. If an earner dies, qualifying spouses, or in some cases parents, can receive benefits. To start the process, the Social Security Administration must be notified of the death and a death certificate must be submitted. 

Spousal benefits are generally available to spouses once they reach the age of 60. The amount given depends on how much money the deceased person was getting from social security or would have earned, if the person wasn’t claiming benefits yet. The amount changes based on when a spouse claims the benefit as well. Waiting until full retirement age does result in more income. 

It’s possible for people to claim both their own social security benefits and survivor benefits. If that’s the case, a person will get the larger monthly sum, not both benefits combined. A person might decide to claim their own benefits early and delay survivor benefits. 

To understand more about social security survivor benefits and what the benefit amount could be, visit the survivor benefits page on the Social Security Administration website. 

How can you apply for social security benefits?

If a person is ready to collect social security benefits, there are three ways to get the process started. A person can apply online at, by calling the Social Security Administration office at 1-800-325-0778, or by visiting a local social security office.

Filing online takes about 15 minutes. A person must answer a series of questions to complete an application, but the process can be completed in multiple sessions, if necessary. It’s best to apply for the benefits about four months before you’d like to receive them.  

Where does social security tax money go?

Social security is a payroll tax that’s taken out of a person’s paycheck. In 2021, $0.85 of every dollar goes to a social security trust fund that pays out social security benefits. About $0.15 of every dollar goes to a trust fund used to support people with disabilities. Less than $0.01 goes to manage the fund, according to the Social Security Administration

When did social security income start?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935. Its original purpose was to help older Americans retire more comfortably, but was amended to include disability and survivor benefits years later.

Are social security benefits taxed?

If a person earns too much money, social security income is taxed by the U.S. government. If a person files a federal tax return as an individual with a combined income between $25,000-$34,000, the person will pay income tax on up to 50% of his or her benefits. A person making more than $34,000 will pay income tax on up to 85% of his or her benefits. 

A joint return with a combined income between $25,000-$44,000 will also pay income tax on up to 50% of the benefit sum. Anything over $44,000, the earner can expect to pay tax on up to 85% of the monthly benefit. The social security website explains more about taxed benefits.

What is delayed retirement?

Delayed retirement is when a person chooses not to claim benefits until after their full retirement age. The person earns delayed retirement credits, which can increase the monthly amount the person will receive once he or she starts collecting.

What is early retirement?

A person can start collecting social security benefits at the age of 62, which is before anyone reaches their full retirement age. If the money is collected before full retirement age, it’s considered early retirement and benefits are reduced.

Can you still work and receive social security benefits?

Yes. A person can work and still get social security, but there is a limit to how much can be earned. The United States government has some strict, specific rules about earning while claiming benefits, which can be found on the social security website under receiving benefits while working.

Will social security run out?

Reports show social security funds could run out by 2028. There are many reasons behind the depleting funds. For starters, the pandemic has created a high unemployment rate, which means fewer people are paying into the system. Plus, wages are down, so even people who are paying into the system are paying less. The pandemic has shaved an estimated seven years off the social security fund’s lifespan. 

In addition, more people are claiming disability and more people taking social security before they reach full retirement age, which has also left the system strapped for cash. 

There are suggested solutions, which include increasing payroll taxes, reducing everyone’s benefit amount, and raising the minimum age to collect social security. 

Considering the future of social security is unstable, it’s best to speak with an investment advisor to review your earnings record, estimate social security benefits, and plan for shortfalls.   

What resources are available to learn more about social security? 

A person can visit the Social Security Administration website at, call the office at 1-800-325-0778, or visit a local social security office. Typically, offices are open Monday-Friday from 7am-7pm. 

This guide, Understanding The Benefits, may also provide additional information.

Arizona Public Records

Arizona is a mix of signals when it comes to Freedom of Information Act laws and that could make it challenging to obtain the public information or records that requesters seek. The law includes all three government branches of executive, judicial and legislative with the definition of “public body” meaning any state, county, city, own, school district, political subdivision or tax-support district in the state along with any branch, department, board, bureau, commission, council or committee. It also includes any public organization or agency that is supported in whole or in part by state money, which includes charter schools. 

Even though there are no exemptions, there are other elements such as a lack of time period that make obtaining information difficult. Requests for public documents can be maide in-person or orally, but those rejected will need to be resubmitted in writing. Requests can also be made by email or mail.

The different things listed in Arizona’s statutes can make getting public records confusing as well as challenging. We have put together a state-by-state guide to help those wanting public information to be able to weave around through the different laws to get the information they are seeking.

What does the Arizona public records law say?

Arizona’s law provides that anyone either within or outside the state can request public information. However, there isn’t a specific time frame that agencies must respond to a request.  Even so, the courts are defining the word “promptly” listed in the law to mean the request would be addressed as quickly as possible. Failure to respond promptly is considered a denial.

Also, the state of Arizona doesn’t require an appointment of a records custodian for the state or for each agency. However, the law says that a government agency will maintain proper records and will assist with requests for records.

There are no appeals options in place should a request be denied but requesters can take the agency issuing a denial to court. Agencies can charge fees for all records and there aren’t any fee waivers. However, those seeking records on behalf of a government, a government division. insurance or other types of benefits are exempted from fees.

To learn more about public access to records, visit The Arizona State Library via the secretary of state website is also a good resource, which provides some public records and retention schedules. 

How can a person access public records in Arizona?

Some records are available online while others require a formal request. If a request is necessary, it can be delivered by mail, email, or by phone to the record-holding department. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. This can be done by email, mail or by phone depending on the department where the request is submitted. In general, a public records request should include: 

  • Your name and contact information, including an email, phone number, and mailing address
  • The name of the document you want access to with as much detail as possible
  • A specific time period that you’d like to receive the materials by
  • How to deliver the documents, whether by email or mail

Due to COVID, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

Arizona criminal records

Criminal records have the basics of all a person’s interactions with police and the courts. This can include arrests, charges and court action. It typically doesn’t include traffic offenses and sometimes won’t include misdemeanors, depending on the state.

There are a lot of reasons why someone may want to look at criminal records. The most common reason is employment as many employers will require a background check before starting a job. It can also be required for some home services such as jobs like caretaker, house cleaning and maid services, and babysitting services.

Criminal background checks could also be used in certain business dealings if there is to be a merger or partnership. In some cases, families may want to search a background before approving a marriage or investigate a relationship.

What’s on a criminal record?

Criminal records contain information regarding a person’s history with law enforcement and the courts. These include arrests, charges or court appearances. Details are pulled from local police departments, the courts and the state prison system. While every state can have different things on a criminal record, there are typically five things on a person’s criminal record:

  • Name, birthday and nationality
  • Mugshot
  • Fingerprints
  • Distinguishing features such as tattoos
  • A list of all offenses, both misdemeanors and felonies, with details of crimes.

Where can a person find Arizona criminal records?

The Arizona Department of Public Safety is where those seeking criminal records and background checks go. The Criminal History Records Section is the Central State Repository for Arizona’s criminal records. All law enforcement agencies in Arizona are mandated by law to report arrest and disposition information into the repository. 

However, copies of criminal records are restricted to only authorized people and agencies.

Employee background checks can be done for authorized agencies and that includes agencies submitting fingerprints with proof of authorized entity requiring it. However, it does not allow release of criminal history to private companies for employment. It does release them to non-profit organizations listed within the law.

Arizona also doesn’t provide a clearance letter to immigrate, get a visa or for foreign adoption.

Arizona inmate records

There are more than 4,500 hundred inmates housed in the Arizona State Prison. Inmate records can be important to several types of people from potential employers once the inmate is released to crime victims who may want to oppose release.

Inmate records shed some additional light on why a person was incarcerated and their behavior while serving time. This can be helpful to some agencies trying to assist felons in housing, jobs and other areas of life.

What’s on an inmate record?

Arizona is similar to other states in what it has on an inmate record. Once a requester gets an inmate record, they will have the information such as basic personal information like the name, a birthdate and the gender, a mug shot and inmate location, an inmate registration number and jail transfer information, along with custody status

Where can a person find Arizona inmate records?

Those seeking inmate information can look online at the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry website. You will need the offender’s last name and their first initial, as well as their gender and whether they are active in incarceration, inactive, on supervised parole or an absconder.

There is one exemption to the inmate search in Arizona. Inmates can’t use the system to look at their information or that of any other inmate. Inmates get an automatic status update on their information once a year.

Arizona court records

Court records can be vitally important in certain cases. There are times when people want to know more about a case. Some of those instances include through vetting for a public or private position, to use the information in another legal case, to clear up issues in adoption or custody cases or to gain a government clearance.

Some people may want court information for a creative enterprise such as a movie or television show or they may seek information as part of a genealogy project.

What’s on a court record?

Court records within the judicial branch include all aspects of a specific court case beginning with the initial arrest or civil court filing. They can also include things like 

  • Court transcripts
  • Depositions
  • Dockets
  • Case files
  • Court minutes
  • Court orders
  • Jury records
  • Sentencing
  • Judgement information
  • Witness documentation. 

These are huge files and can be costly to have printouts made.

Where can a person find Arizona court records?

In Arizona, most court cases can be found at the Clerk of Superior Court in Maricopa County through an ECR online system. Those who are party to a case can access the case as a registered user. Those who are not a party in the case can view summaries in some case types, but those are more limited.

Those who have cases on the file can look at those in:

  • Family Court
  • Probate
  • Civil
  • Criminal
  • Tax Court

Those who are not a party to a case can only look at civil cases, some limited criminal cases and tax court cases. Those not a party to case can view case documents from Family Court and Probate Court in-person at the proper facility.

For Arizona Supreme Court information, there is an online database that you can reference provided by the judicial branch.

Arizona vital records

Vital records are important for a number of reasons. Since they include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees, they can be used to prove identification. That means they are often required to attend school, apply for college, play sports, get a job, apply for Social Security, get married, adopt and obtain passports. These are the most commonly requested public documents.

What information is needed to request a vital record?

States have established new protocols for obtaining vital records to address privacy concerns. Anyone requesting a vital record in Arizona must submit:

  • The approximate date and place of the event, 
  • The full name of the person, including maiden names and 
  • A case file number for divorce record or a license number for marriage records.

Where can a person find Arizona vital records?

Vital records can be obtained through the Arizona Department of Health Services. However, the office is currently closed to walk-in requests because of COVID-19. Those requesting vital records may do so online or by mail. Birth and death records can be ordered online through the ADHA Bureau of Vital Records

Arizona implemented a new system October 2 called the D.A.V.E system for hospitals, funeral home staff and doctors to process death records. However, the public does not have access to the system. The system was meant to provide for quicker response times regarding death certificates.

Online services accept major credit and debit cars. There is a state fee schedule but some counties may have their own fees. The state fee schedule states that birth and death certificates are $20 each. There are also $12.95 processing fees in many cases.

Marriage and divorce decrees must be obtained from the courts where the event happened. They are maintained by the Clerk of Superior Court in the local counties. Each county may set its own fee to send a certified copy.

Frequently asked questions about Arizona records

To provide additional information, here’s a look at commonly asked questions about public records in Arizona: 

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

Yes. Whether you live in Phoenix or San Diego, any United States citizen can request public documents.

Is there a records custodian in Arizona?

There is no formal custodian of public records. Agencies are to maintain their own records and handle requests.

What exemptions exist?

There are no exemptions.

How long does that state have to respond?

There isn’t a time designated within the law to respond, although courts determine the word “promptly” sets the time as quickly as possible.

Is there an appeals process in place?

There is no administrative appeals process. In many states, requesters can file a complaint with the attorney general, but that’s not so in Arizona. Instead, a request can take court action if a state agency denies a request or is unresponsive.

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Agencies set their own fees to different types of requests for public information and documents.

  • Updated December 18, 2020
  • States

New Hampshire Public Records

Getting public information in the State of New Hampshire can be as confusing as it is cumbersome. This state has a Right to Know Law, but it is largely left up to interpretation, and how your particular official or agency interprets it can affect the success you have in obtaining records.

It has a citizenship restriction, but that is unclear and the state’s attorney general’s role in helping requesters isn’t defined so there isn’t a true appeals process. The law is broad in relating to documents but has broad exemptions as well.

We have compiled information regarding state-by-state laws to help those seeking public information. Specific policies and procedures for New Hampshire is listed below to get those needing information started. 

What does the New Hampshire public records law say?

The Right to Know Law in New Hampshire has two clear points. First, it does specify a time frame for government agencies to respond to requests and that is five days. 

That makes it one of the fastest turnaround times in the country. There is also a restriction that forbids charging processing fees so obtaining public information in New Hampshire can be cheaper than in other parts of the country.

The law applies to documents as “any information created, accepted, or obtained by, or on behalf of, any public body.” 

The state doesn’t have a formal appeals process so requesters are forced to file court action if the agency doesn’t reply within the five-day window or provide proper paperwork that is requested.

It is unclear whether you must be a resident to request information. The law states “citizens” can request but there is confusion whether that means a New Hampshire citizen or an American citizen.

How can a person access public records in New Hampshire?

To access public records, you can find some online while others require a request form. If a request form or a release form is necessary, it can be sent via mail, email, or by phone to the record-holding department. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. This can be done by email, mail, or by phone depending on the department where the request is submitted. Each department may interpret the citizenship clause differently and exemptions to the public records law differently.

In general, a public records request should include: 

  • Your name and contact information, including an email, phone number, and mailing address
  • The name of the document you want access to with as much detail as possible
  • A specific time period that you’d like to receive the materials by
  • How to deliver the documents, whether by email or mail

Due to COVID-19, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

New Hampshire criminal records

There are many reasons to seek out criminal records. Typically, the most common is for employment but there could be other reasons. More charities, churches, and other volunteer agencies are requiring background screenings before approving applications for volunteering too. 

Those seeking to adopt or foster children will also be likely to undergo a background check. In some cases, those seeking a business partnership will also require mutual background checks.

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal background check provides a list of all interactions a person has with a law enforcement agency. These details are pulled from many sources such as local police departments, courts, and the state prison system. They can include things like arrests, charges, court sentencing, and incarceration information.

Regardless of the state, there are typically five things listed on all criminal records. 

A New Hampshire background check usually contains basic personal information like their name, birthday and nationality, a mugshot, fingerprints, distinguishing features like tattoos and a list of all misdemeanor and felony convictions with details of the offense.

Where can a person find New Hampshire criminal records?

Those seeking information about a person’s criminal history can get them from the New Hampshire Department of Safety within the criminal records unit. Walk-in requesters are accepted at 33 Hazen Drive, Concord, Room 106A or you can mail in an application or agree to release it to a third party. Notarization is not required for either of these options. 

Requesters can also request their own criminal history records. To do this, a notary or Justice of the Peace signature with a date and seal are requesting. Requesters in this instance will need valid photo identification when requesting at the public counter.

The state charges a $25 fee payable to the State of New Hampshire. The fee can be paid in the form of cash, check, money order, or major debt or credit card. However, payments must be exactly $25 as change is not given. Volunteers for a public or private not-for-profit entity have a reduced fee.

If you decide to obtain a criminal record from another company, the state of New Hampshire adopted the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that provides an accuracy of public records that stem from a consumer reporting agency. 

New Hampshire inmate records

Research shows that New Hampshire has an estimated 2,701 inmates being held within its jails and prisons. There are reasons to request inmate records including an employment screening or to clear up past legal irregularities after being cleared of a crime. Crime victims also find them helpful to know the status of an offender and to pursue possible civil court action where needed.

What’s on an inmate record?

New Hampshire, like many states, contains basic information on inmate records. Record checks can provide the following information:

  • The inmates name, birthdate and gender
  • A mugshot
  • An inmate location
  • An inmate registration number
  • Custody status

Where can a person find New Hampshire inmate records?

Those seeking inmate record information can locate inmates on the New Hampshire Department of Corrections website. Information is pulled from the DOC Offender Records Office in Concord, New Hampshire. It has active sentencing information under the law in which the conviction occurred. It also displays the minimum and maximum release dates, pending consecutive sentences, tech parole violations and  New Hampshire incarcerated inmates housed in state facilities. To conduct an inmate search, those requesting information will need all or part of the inmate’s last name and all or part of their first name.

There is no fee for this online service.

New Hampshire court records

Court records can provide a lot of information for those looking at a specific case. The files are typically quite large as they contain copies of all legal action, plus depositions and other testimony. There could be several reasons for wanting a copy of court records but the most common reason is to tie it to ongoing litigation in another case.

What’s on a court record?

Court records have an enormous amount of information. They typically pull together information from several courts into the one case file that includes all the action on the case. Information can include dockets, court minutes, case testimony, depositions, court orders, sentencing, jury records and witness documentation.

Where can a person find New Hampshire court records?

There is no online service for getting court records in the State of New Hampshire, so requesters will need to obtain court records from local Superior and Circuit courts located. There are COVID-19 rules to gain in-person access including face covering requirements. Those wanting to know more about obtaining court records in Superior or Circuit Court cases can call 1-855-212-1234. Those requesting records from a New Hampshire Supreme Court case should call the clerk at 603-271-2646.

New Hampshire vital records

Vital records contain some of the most important information for a person. These are the government records of life’s moments such as birth, death, marriage and divorce. Vital records are used to claim identity and citizenship so they are incredibly important. They are used to start school, go to college, get a driver’s license, change a name, get a passport, adopt and for employment. They are also used to settle estates.

What information is needed to request a vital record?

There is some basic information required of everyone requesting vital records. This includes:

  • The approximate date and location of the event
  • The full name of the person, including maiden names
  • A case file number for divorce records and a license number for marriage records
  • The date of birth for birth records

Where can a person find New Hampshire vital records?

The New Hampshire Department of State as a Division of Vital Records Administration with information on how to obtain vital records. The new website has statistical information only. Individual vita records can’t be obtained online.  There are several places to get vital records depending on exactly what you are searching for.

Birth records of more than a century old, and marriage divorce, death records of more than 50 years old are in the research room of the New Hampshire Archives and Vital Records, 9 Ratification Way in Concord, New Hampshire. 

Copies of vital records can be found in the local city clerk’s offices where they occurred. This includes births, deaths, marriage, divorces. Pre-adoption (non-certified) records must be obtained from the New Hampshire Division of Vital Records Information.

Copies of vital records are sent to the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics in Concord, New Hampshire.

Frequently asked questions about New Hampshire records

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

New Hampshire law states you must be a citizen, but it is unclear whether that means a citizen of New Hampshire or of the United States. Public officials in different agencies have different interpretations. In other words, it may make a difference if you live in Manchester as opposed to Miami when it comes to requesting records. 

Is there a records custodian in New Hampshire?

No, there is no records custodian in New Hampshire.

What exemptions exist?

There are several exemptions including grand jury and petit jury records, personal information, school records, preliminary drafts, and other documents deemed to be an invasion of privacy as loosely defined.

How long does that state have to respond?

Government entities have five days to respond.

Is there an appeals process in place?

No, there is no appeals process in place.

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

There are different fees for different types of records. For instance, death certificates are $15 for the first copy and $10 per copy after that. New Hampshire also charges a non-refundable search fee but there is a restriction against charging processing fees.

Top School Districts in Wyoming, 2021


Many know Wyoming as a rugged, expansive natural playground, sparsely populated and home to a number of vast, beautiful state and national parks. Yet, few are aware that the Cowboy State is one of the best in the nation for education, with well-funded schools characterized by high performance in academics and standardized testing. Here’s a look at Wyoming’s five best school districts. 

Albany County School District #1 is the best public school system in Wyoming. Comprising fifteen schools with an enrollment of over 4,000 in the southeastern part of the state, ACSD#1 boasts a math proficiency rate higher than state and national averages, and 105 students of the graduating class of 2018 received the Hathaway Scholarship

Wyoming’s 2nd best school district is Sheridan County School District #2, made up of ten high-performing schools with a considerable list of accolades, including a remarkable eight National Blue Ribbon Award honors.

Placing 3rd is Park County School District #16, a single-school district based in Meeteetse with an enrollment of 121. Students of the district graduate at a rate of 92.3% and over 70% are proficient in mathematics.    

Natrona County School District earns Wyoming’s #4 spot. An expansive district based in the city of Caspar and serving around 13,000 students, NCSD is the largest employer in Natrona County and plays a central role in the lives of many of its residents.

Rounding out the list of Wyoming’s best school districts is Fremont County School District #2, consisting of a single K-12 school in the small town of Dubois. Despite its modest size, FCSD#2 offers an extensive, wide-ranging curriculum that gives students plenty of opportunity to specialize in their subjects of interest. 

Top School Districts in Wyoming, 2020

1Albany County School District #1
2Sheridan County School District #2
3Park County School District #16
4Natrona County School District #1
5Fremont County School District # 2
6Lincoln County School District #2
7Sweetwater County School District #1
8Teton County School District #1
9Campbell County School District #1
10Washakie County School District #2
11Fremont County School District #24
12Sheridan County School District #3
13Sweetwater County School District #2
14Sublette County School District #1
15Sheridan County School District #1
16Laramie County School District #1
17Converse County School District #1
18Park County School District # 1
19Uinta County School District #1
20Carbon County School District #2


The following variables contributed to the ranking: number of students (K-12), graduation rate, school funding per student, student to teacher ratio, percent of students scoring above proficient in standardized state Math test, percent of students scoring above proficient in standardized state Reading and Language test. Data from a total of 10,247 public school districts were used to compute a score for each school district. The following states were omitted due to lack of sufficient data: Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, and Virginia. Note that high schools in some states have their own independent districts.

Did your district make the list? Share the good news!

wyoming_top school_district_badge_2020

How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program

how to start a neighborhood watch

When you see a neighborhood watch sign on a street corner--you know the one--with a big red line slashing across the dark silhouette of a man in a fedora and trench coat, you automatically feel safer. Why? Because you know inhabitants of the neighborhood are banding together to take an active stand against crime and vandalism in their local community.   

Since its beginnings in the early 70’s, the National Neighborhood Watch program, a branch of the National Sheriff’s Association, has been motivating citizens to rally together and work with local law enforcement to prevent neighborhood crime. While a neighborhood watch isn’t a vigilante task force, it can be empowering for residents of a community that often feel helpless. Does your local area lack a neighborhood watch program? Now’s the time to start one, and we’ll help you through it, step-by-step.

Why start a neighborhood watch?

There’s several key reasons for starting a neighborhood watch program in your neighborhood. Let’s go over them here.

  • A neighborhood watch helps reduce crime and deters criminals from operating in your neighborhood.

This is the big reason for starting a watch, and they do work to lower neighborhood crime. While there is a lack of recent studies on neighborhood watch programs, a 2008 U.S. Justice Department meta-analysis of U.S., U.K. and Canadian research done between 1977 and 1994 found that there was a 16% average decrease in crime compared to control areas that lacked a neighborhood watch. There is no more effect step that residents of a neighborhood can take to reduce crime in their area.

  • Participating in a neighborhood strengthens the bonds within a community and bolsters civic pride.

These days, with fewer neighborhood residents knowing and having relationships with their neighbors than in the past, according to a recent Pew study, a neighborhood watch is a perfect way for residents to increase interaction with those that they live amongst. When residents of a community cooperate towards a common goal, they develop lifelong bonds and a renewed sense of trust in one another. A watch also grants a community a stronger sense of self-identity and responsibility to do well by their neighbors.

  • A neighborhood watch raises the level of cooperation between residents and local law enforcement, while increasing faith in the police.

The first step in kicking off any neighborhood watch is contacting the local police, and they should play an active role throughout a watch’s history. Despite their role in protecting the neighborhood, watch members are always encouraged to call the police in the event of suspicious activity, rather than personally intervening. This cooperative relationship puts a human face on the local police force and enhances the community’s faith in them.

  • Your local neighborhood watch positive influences the youth of the community, teaching them the importance of playing an active role in community programs.

When kids witness their parents and neighbors putting an effort towards keeping the neighborhood safe, it motivates them to follow suit when they come of age. Children learn best by example, so showing them that you care about their safety and the greater good of the community points them in the right direction.

  • Residents of a community live a happier life.

A neighborhood watch helps local residents to feel safe and secure, increasing their quality of life. When people worry less about becoming a victim of crime or vandalism, they can focus on the important things in life, i.e., their professions, their favorite pastimes, and their loved ones.

Checklist: Starting a neighborhood watch

The following are the key steps anyone committed to enacting a neighborhood watch should follow:

  • Step 1: Notify the local law enforcement agency.

The local police department in your community will play an integral role in your neighborhood watch program, so informing them of your intention to start a program, before all else, is key. You’ll want to secure their support and commitment to participation. If possible, request that an officer be present during the first meeting of a neighborhood watch to answer questions and demonstrate support.

  • Step 2: Hold an initial meeting.

Since it’s likely the most important meeting your neighborhood watch will hold, make sure that your first neighborhood watch meeting is scheduled at a date and time when residents of the neighborhood will be able to attend, such as a weekend afternoon or evening during the middle of the week. Hold the meeting in a convenient, well-known location like a community center, or library.

The keynote meeting is your chance to demonstrate why a neighborhood watch will be effective and beneficial towards the community, so come well-prepared with guidelines and goals in place. Be ready to answer any and all questions members of your community may have, and have a police officer present to assist in guiding the meeting.   

  • Step 3: Put the word out.

Do everything in your power to let residents--and potential criminals--know that a neighborhood watch is in effect. The best way to do this is by distributing flyers in the mailboxes of every home in the community detailing the goals of your program, and providing phone numbers that residents may call with questions or concerns. Signs and decals posted around the neighborhood that indicate that your neighborhood is protected by a watch is another key element of spreading the word.  

  • Step 4: Organize and assign roles.

Being well-organized and staffed is an important element of an effective program. Have an action plan in place. Know the schedules and availability of participating neighborhood watch members. The most enthusiastic members can be assigned as block captain. Be aware of members’ strengths: if one volunteer is particularly web-savvy, put them in charge of the internet and social media arm of your program. 

  • Step 5: Lead by example.

If you’re the one kicking off a neighborhood watch, you have a responsibility to fulfill your duties and motivate others to participate. If something happens at any point that prevents you from participating at a level appropriate for a community leader, then elect someone better suited to the task.

  • Step 6: Stay committed.

A neighborhood watch is hard work, and it requires a level of commitment from all involved. Don’t start strong and slack off, keep things moving and make sure volunteers remain communicative and on board. Regular meetings are a key part of an active, effective watch program.

Neighborhood safety tips

Take a look at these tips that will help make your neighborhood watch more effective in keeping your community safe:

  • Know what crime occurs in your neighborhood.

By gathering information on the local crime rate, and the types of crime common in your neighborhood, you and other watch members will know what to keep a lookout for.

  • Participate in neighborhood cleanup activities.

A clean community is a safe community. Organize neighborhood cleanup events to beautify the area, clean up vacant lots, and request that local business owners keep their storefronts in good condition.

  • Ensure that your members are well-educated on their responsibilities, as well as their limits.

Members of a neighborhood watch can patrol the area for suspicious behavior, but rarely should they become directly involved with an ongoing crime, which could lead to larger problems for everyone involved. Make sure they know that they ought to call the police, rather than attempt to stop a crime on their own.

  • If your neighborhood has a large hispanic presence, translate reading materials and signs into Spanish.

Don’t leave community members in the cold: if your neighborhood has a large hispanic population, make sure that your signs and flyers reflect this.

  • Encourage residents unable to take an active role in the watch to participate in any way they can.

Even if residents are too busy, or physically unable to take an active role in the program, let them know that they can help by being “window watchers”, and alerting the police if they ever witness suspicious activity outside their homes or from their vehicle. Another way they can help is enhancing their own home security with a security system, which helps to dissuade burglars from operating in the neighborhood.


Now that you have a firm understanding of why a neighborhood watch is important, and how you can take a leading role in starting one up, the rest is on you. You are about to begin one of the most challenging, yet rewarding projects in your lifetime. We wish you good luck in keeping your community safe!

Safest Cities in North Carolina, 2021

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Although it’s around the middle of the pack of U.S. states in terms of overall crime rates, North Carolina is home to a large number of very safe communities. We gave each North Carolina city (with a population above 10,000) a score on our Safety Index, which combines FBI crime statistics and law enforcement employment numbers to calculate the safety of a given city, and 24 cities in the state earned a 0.24 or above, indicating a high level of public safety well above the U.S. average. 

Of these 24 North Carolina cities, 6 achieved a 0.5 Safety Index score or above, placing them in the upper echelon of safe cities in the country. Let’s take a closer look at these cities to see what makes them so safe.

Pinehurst, a village in Moore County, is North Carolina’s safest community. Renowned as home to Pinehurst Resort, a historic golf resort designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the pioneer of American landscape architecture, Pinehurst earned a 0.6 Safety Index score on the strength of a very low property crime rate that is less than half of the U.S. average.

In terms of safety, #2 Archdale is not far behind. The cozy city of 11.6K 15 miles outside of Greensboro is home to wine vineyards as well as the John Deere Vintage Tractor Museum, which should be on visitor’s short list of North Carolina tourist destinations. 

Sharing the #3 spot are Holly Springs and Mount Airy, two North Carolina cities that earned a 0.54 Safety Index Score, owing to low crime rates and favorable ratios of police officers to residents. Holly Springs, in particular, has received acclaim as a great town to live in, on account of its great public school system and many public parks. Currently boasting a population of around 35,000, Holly Springs has more than tripled its population since the year 2000.

With it’s 0.51 Safety Index score, Elon, a town in Alamance County best known as home to Elon University, just edges out Apex (Safety Index score: 0.5) for North Carolina’s #5 spot. However, both are great family-friendly communities to settle down in.  

Safest Cities in North Carolina, 2019

RankCitySafety Index
3Holly Springs0.54
4Mount Airy0.54
8Mount Holly0.45
13Kings Mountain0.39
15Wake Forest0.39
24Chapel Hill0.27
26Southern Pines0.16
32Mint Hill0.07
34New Bern0.04
43Rocky Mount-0.39
47Elizabeth City-0.49
53High Point-0.7
56Hope Mills-0.87
60Roanoke Rapids-0.98


We used the most recent FBI crime statistics to create state rankings. There were initially 7,430 cities in the data set. After filtering out the cities with populations of less than 10,000, 2,929 cities remained. We then calculated violent crime rates and property crime rates by dividing the crime numbers by the population to get rates per 1,000. We also calculated the ratio of law enforcement workers to per 1,000. These were weighted with -50% for the violent crime rate, -25% for the property crime rate, and +25% for the law enforcement rate. The resulting metric gave us a the safety index score. The higher this number more safe the city is.

Did your district make the list? Share the good news!

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Safest Cities in North Dakota, 2021

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While North Dakota’s population has grown by a considerable 12.77% since 2010, it’s managed to do so without a spike in crime rates: the state is a respectable 21st in property crime and 14th in violent crime. 

Let’s take a look at the four North Dakota cities (with a population greater than or equal to 10,000) that earned favorable scores on our Safety Index, which factors in FBI crime statistics and law enforcement employee numbers to judge the safety of a community.

Dickinson and West Fargo share the title of North Dakota’s safest city, with each earning a Safety Index score of 0.33. Both logged violent and property crime rates below state and national averages, although West Fargo’s violent crime rate of 1.45 per 1,000 and property crime rate of 13.49 per 1,000 best Dickinson in both categories. Dickinson makes up for it by posting a higher law enforcement employees to resident ratio.

Trailing slightly behind is North Dakota’s #3 safest city, Minot, of Ward County. The city of over 50,000 recorded a violent crime rate of 2.67 per 1,000, which is considerably below the national average.

At number four, Williston is the final North Dakota city in our ranking to log a favorable Safety Index score. The city’s property crime rate of 23.34 per 1,000 is on par with the national average, though its violent crime rate is slightly below the national average. 

Safest Cities in North Dakota, 2019

RankCitySafety Index
2West Fargo0.33
7Grand Forks-0.22


We used the most recent FBI crime statistics to create state rankings. There were initially 7,430 cities in the data set. After filtering out the cities with populations of less than 10,000, 2,929 cities remained. We then calculated violent crime rates and property crime rates by dividing the crime numbers by the population to get rates per 1,000. We also calculated the ratio of law enforcement workers to per 1,000. These were weighted with -50% for the violent crime rate, -25% for the property crime rate, and +25% for the law enforcement rate. The resulting metric gave us a the safety index score. The higher this number more safe the city is.

Did your district make the list? Share the good news!

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Safest Cities in Wyoming, 2021

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Good news for Wyoming residents: the Cowboy state is among the top ten safest in the country based on its low violent and property crime rates. This is reflected in the performance of Wyoming’s cities on our Safety Index, which utilizes FBI crime statistics and law enforcement employee data to calculate the safety of a community. 

Just 2 of Wyoming’s 10 cities with a population over 10K received negative Safety Index scores (Cheyenne and Rock Springs), indicating higher than average crime rates, meaning that the other 8 performed very favorably. Of the 8 Wyoming cities to earn a positive Safety Index score, 4 truly distinguished themselves, earning a 0.5 or higher. Let’s take a closer look at Wyoming’s 4 safest cities.

Our pick for the safest city in Wyoming is Sheridan, a community in the northern part of the state located halfway between Yellowstone Park and Mount Rushmore that is known for its strong rodeo and cowboy culture. The city logged just 8 violent crimes in 2017, which amounts to a very low 0.44 per 1,000 violent crime rate, less than a quarter of Wyoming’s already low state average.

Placing #2 in the list of ranking of Wyoming’s safest cities is Green River, of the wonderfully named Sweetwater County. The mining and energy hub recorded a terrific 1.63 per 1,000 violent crime rate along with a property crime rate below 10 per 1,000. At #3 Jackson, county seat of Teton County and gateway to the Grand Teton National Park, fared nearly as well, posting violent and property crime rates below the national averages in both categories.

Laramie is the 4th of our 4 Wyoming cities to achieve that lofty goal of a 0.5 Safety Index score or higher.  The city of over 32K recorded just 30 violent crimes in 2017, for a violent crime rate of less than 1 incident per 1,000 residents. 

Safest Cities in Wyoming, 2019

RankCitySafety Index
2Green River0.55
9Rock Springs-0.14


We used the most recent FBI crime statistics to create state rankings. There were initially 7,430 cities in the data set. After filtering out the cities with populations of less than 10,000, 2,929 cities remained. We then calculated violent crime rates and property crime rates by dividing the crime numbers by the population to get rates per 1,000. We also calculated the ratio of law enforcement workers to per 1,000. These were weighted with -50% for the violent crime rate, -25% for the property crime rate, and +25% for the law enforcement rate. The resulting metric gave us a the safety index score. The higher this number more safe the city is.

Did your district make the list? Share the good news!

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