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Mapping Poverty in America (nytimes.com)
47 points by simonsarris 1346 days ago | hide | past | web | 48 comments | favorite

This map should be filtered or adjusted for universities/students somehow. If you zoom in on my city (San Luis Obispo, CA), you'd think 30% of the entire city lived below the poverty line. This isn't true (our median home price is approaching $600K) so I can only imagine it's skewed by Cal Poly students.

I'm no expert in statistics but the picture this map paints is misleading IMO.

Anecdotes don't mean much, unfortunately I can think of four local universities surrounded by a cloud of extreme poverty.

The lifecycle seems to be new city starts building out, put a university in the new, good neighborhoods, wait 100 years and those neighborhoods are now the inner city with spectacular crime and poverty.

The same low rents and low quality housing that attract students would logically tend to attract poor people. The same dumpy loft that seems perfect for a physics student would also seem financially perfect for a poor person.

Note that I'm talking about traditional student housing, not the ultra expensive school loan inspired facilities.

You know, that's actually really insightful and has brought sudden clarity to the paradox of poverty "donuts" that circle a number of city universities I know about.

Even if students are spending $50k+ per year on school, very little of it makes its way out into the neighboring economy.

The area around Oklahoma University shows 85%, and I was trying to get my head around that (as it's blocks from here). The first explanation I thought of was, This has to be wrong.

Most traditional 4-year students wouldn't be counted in your area. Their permanent residences are likely with the parents.

Check Stanford. 30% of the population reported within poverty.

I permanently rented an apartment for 4 of the 5 years I was in college why wasn't that my address? I lived there full time yes during summer.

I don't think it is. Those poor students affect the environment and life in that region just like everybody else.

Students are _very_ different than working poor. The working poor's income is close to their expenditures. Most Student's 'income' will be reported as near zero. However, their expenditures into the economy are above that, through tuition payments and lodging. Also, they are likely to have additional spending money that is outside of reported income.

Much of their expenditure goes to the University though, and to my knowledge little of that flows back to the city. The University often winds up sequestering large amounts of wealth even as the city around begins to deteriorate.

This map is based on income.

If you're a "poor" student who isn't working, but getting money from your parents or via student loan, you're not the same as a poor working person.

Yes, they affect "the environment and life in that region", but not in the same way a perennially poor family would.

>so I can only imagine it's skewed by Cal Poly students

It's not skewed, those students really live there, so that's what it is.

It's skewed because many students are still dependent on their parents. An example is Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. Because of the low population density, the students have more weight in pulling down the average income. The area is marked has having a high poverty rate. But many of these students drive expensive cars like late model BMWs. They are most certainly not poor.

Agreed, same story near UCLA

Yeah, my sister lives right down the street from UCLA, it didn't strike me as having 40%+ poverty along westwood ave.

Yup. The poverty line for an individual is $11,490 in gross income. That's going to cut out most students. Edit: Federal poverty line.

Mapping poverty is an inherently challenging activity. There are a huge number of edge cases where the calculations start to make things misleading. The poverty line itself is a point of significant contention among nonprofits and foundations. There's a federal line, but the higher cost of living in cities often means that you can live at 110% of the poverty line and be truly struggling to get by. There are efforts to calculate state-level or even city-level poverty lines. Not sure this map adjusts for that.

However, I don't want to put this map down simply because it tries to simplify something very complicated. I do think there are a few very valuable messages here. Particularly for folks who live in a bit of a bubble, and may not realize how close they live to people living in poverty.

> the higher cost of living in cities often means that you can live at 110% of the poverty line and be truly struggling to get by.

I think it's important to make a distinction between "poor" and "poverty" though. Struggling to get by infers that they're getting by and could be called "poor".

Poverty, I think, implies they're not getting by in the local socio-economic area they're in. It's easy to move between categories. Poverty vs. poor could be as much as $20 to make rent this month.

Having grown up pretty poor, and having relatives shift in and out of poverty (American style), there's a qualitative difference I think.

What does it mean to be "not getting by" vs "getting by".

Are you able to earn enough to cover your basic life expenses, even if nothing is left over at the end of the month? Is it a bare subsistence living? Would a single unexpected emergency that cost you even a tiny amount of money push you over the edge so you could no longer cover your basic expenses?

Or are you on a slow downward spiral or perpetual small shortfalls in nearly every basic expense area? To the point that you can't even cover a bare subsistence living?

I think that's probably how I'd notionally describe the difference between poor and poverty.

I'll list a few examples, but please remember each person's situation is unique and "not getting by" could just mean facing a mental health issue (bipolar comes to mind). I guess what I'm saying is, even this attempt to enumerate some financial examples clearly misses the bigger picture of physical health (and associated costs), mental health (and associated costs), social problems, etc.

1. Guy just got fired from his job because he told his boss to stop altering time sheets, removing hours worked thus lower wages. When he went to the Dept of Labor they "couldn't help him" because he hadn't come to them first before getting fired.

So he got a lawyer but that just burned through his cash reserve; when the cash ran out the lawyer walked out. He's now living out of his car even though he got another job. He's probably blacklisted by a lot of the jobs he's used to. When his current job pays him in 2 weeks, he can make a deposit on a place and maybe start renting again. In the meantime he struggles to find a place to shower each day.

2. Girl finally emancipated herself from a bad adoptive parent situation. She's 16 and emotionally mature enough to live on her own. She's currently at a women's shelter but they are working with her to secure an apartment. Apartment managers refuse to consider her because "she doesn't have a parent's signature." She has a job at a pizza place but keeps getting turned down for better paying jobs because she's still in high school. How is she going to make rent for the next 2 years? Making pizzas?

3. Guy splitting rent with some friends who get into drugs and stop paying him. Since the apartment is technically in his name, he gets thrown in county jail for a few days when the cops bust the drug thing. He is clean so they let him go but the apartment insists he move out, like, yesterday. So technically he's homeless even though he has a stable job. When he goes to get another apartment they all want to know where he has stayed for the last 2 years (standard apartment procedure) and when they talk to the apartments where he was, they always get enough of an earful from the previous manager that they decide he's not worth it. Financially he's making it through all this but imagine if he were just barely making it... could be enough to push him out onto the street.

Sleeping in your car is particularly bad because a lot of local law enforcement will ticket you or throw you in jail for a night. They really don't want you sleeping in your car around here. The risk is that they might impound your car after enough tickets. Now you're really "not getting by."

It looks like the map measures poverty by income in dollars without any cost-of-living adjustments. So it may be more of a map of regional cost-of-living than anything else.

Exactly. That's why some of the rural areas (Alaska, Dakotas) look so bad and some of the bigger urban areas (New York) don't.

The worst-off counties in South Dakota match up pretty well with Indian reservations, and it should be a surprise to nobody (and a shame to everybody) how poor the people are there.

Cost of living in Alaska, even rural Alaska, is actually competitive, if not higher than, with living in NYC.

Not sure. New York looks very bad to me.

A great guide for which neighborhoods to not live in. I know it's sad. But I also know I'm not the only person who thought this.

I think I've seen this map before...


As in, was this normalized, both for population density, and cost of living: read look at alaska..

Absolutely not applicable when brought down to the census tract level in large cities. Compare, for example, the percentage living below poverty line in Manhattan (density of 27,227.1/km2) with the percentage living below poverty line in Brooklyn (density of 14,037/km2).

> when brought down to the census tract level in large cities

Which is exactly the same with any population heat map when you go down to the census tract level in large cities.

In other words, it is completely applicable.

This map is more detailed: http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-San-Francisco-Calif... (down to the block group level) and it has additional information, such as change since the year 2000.

Just to calibrate: anything above 30% is considered a high-poverty area by foundations.

A bizarre use of a 'heat map', where the brighter colour means the lesser value. It kind've almost double-negatives itself semantically, but I had to reorient myself as to what was going on.

Higher saturation, perhaps, but definitely not brighter.

Being that the intention of this map is to bring attention to census tracts with higher percentages of poverty (instead of bringing attention to census tracts with a lower percentage of poverty), a cooler color (associative with 'lower') with saturation increases (associative with 'pay attention to this') seems to be the way to go.

An interesting point to note is that a large majority, though not all, of the areas with the highest poverty rates seem to overlap with indian reservations.

Why Stanford CA is so poor? It's in middle of Palo Alto!

Because, while this income-only definition of 'poor' is common and often drive policy, it doesn't match what people intuitively think of as 'needy'.

We need another map that's based on consumption-poverty, not income-poverty – and controlled for local prices. Unfortunately that data is a lot harder to collect.

Who actually lives there besides students and subsidized faculty?



Kinda strange how the most-impoverished states are the ones that vote Republican all the time. It's odd how they've gotten poor voters to act against their own best interests by electing the party most likely to screw them over.

This is a trite and stupid meme that needs to die. Let's look at Alabama, for example. You see those darkest counties? They overwhelmingly vote for Democrats at the national level. The same is true for Mississippi and other southern states. (I'd have to look at data for outside the region since I'm less acquainted with the politics & demographics of other parts of the country.)

Now click the other map that shows absolute numbers of people living below the poverty line and you will find the majority of people in poverty live in either so-called blue states or Democrat strongholds within "red" states.

Now crawl back to Reddit with your sanctimonious and paternalistic drivel.

Funny how two brand new accounts were created just to downvote and insult me.

Didn't know the GOP was astroturfing HN now, too.

You could [1] see it as a testament to the idiocy of your remark that two lurkers were finally roused to register in order to rebut it.

1. But of course you wouldn't.

Nah, I'll see it for what it is: two imbeciles (or, more than likely, one individual imbecile who registered two accounts) nitpicking.

Kinda strange how your pretentious sarcasm is completely wrong and ignorant. Red states have a large voting base that votes Democrat. They're among the poorest groups in America.


I love the smell of astroturf.

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