2013-04-26

Co.Exist

Mapping Economic Inequality On Every Block In The Country

Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks breaks down the disparities in wealth and privilege in our cities to show that, despite physical proximity, there can be enormous gaps between the haves and the have nots.

The heyday of "The Rent Is Too Damn High" as both a movement and a meme has come and gone, but the sentiment remains painfully true—especially considering that the average male worker earns less in inflation-adjusted wages than he would have in 1968. As the middle class hollows out, the gap between rich and poor widens, and what were left with is A Tale of Two Cities—in almost every city in the country.

For a visualization of America’s disparate economic worlds, look no further than Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, which maps the median rent and income of every neighborhood in the country. Created by Chris Persaud, Rich Blocks Poor Blocks uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and paints a fascinating, if distressing, portrait of the nation’s economic landscape.

According to Nobel Laureate and Columbia professor of economics Joseph Stiglitz, rampant economic inequality will likely prevent America from truly recovering from the financial crisis.

Our skyrocketing inequality—so contrary to our meritocratic ideal of America as a place where anyone with hard work and talent can “make it”—means that those who are born to parents of limited means are likely never to live up to their potential. Children in other rich countries like Canada, France, Germany and Sweden have a better chance of doing better than their parents did than American kids have. More than a fifth of our children live in poverty—the second worst of all the advanced economies, putting us behind countries like Bulgaria, Latvia and Greece.

That in mind, consider how Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks might look alongside this map by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute. Using the Gini Coefficient, the maps reveals that many U.S. cities have income disparity on par with some of the poorest nations in the world. Go to RBPB and search for Los Angeles, and you’ll see a city with the same level of income inequality as the Dominican Republic. Or explore New York, which has comparable levels of inequality as Swaziland.

One potentially interesting application of RBPB would be to incorporate historical data, thereby enabling us to visualize shifts in income and rent over time (potentially with a scrolling feature). To wit, Persaud encourages programmers and users alike to share suggestions and has already implemented a few of them. If only addressing the issues behind our widespread wealth disparity were as easy.

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