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Visualizing Inequality

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Mapping projects that examine income inequality may help efforts to close the gap.

We recently touched on the nationwide problem of income inequality—but what does that look like in your own neighborhood? Activist Aaron Kreider wanted to find out so he spent a year plugging in income and race data to create JusticeMap.org, a tool that visualizes the makeup of individual blocks throughout the country.

Kreider who has a background in data visualization and sociology, says, “I’ve zoomed deeper in the data than other people have done before. There are something like 10 million individual blocks in the United States. I was running my computer through the night.” Previously he had developed mapping software that looked at power plants and waste facilities where he noticed that such facilities were often constructed in low-income and minority communities. He expanded his scope for Justice Map using 10GB of information from the 2010 census and Google Maps, as well as a grant from the Sunlight Foundation.

The maps can be exported so that organizations can utilize them to gain understanding of areas they are working in and to develop their own initiatives. An organizer in Louisville, Kentucky is already integrating Justice Map with another mapping project that assesses air quality. In Seattle, it’s being used to determine where there may be a need for low-income housing in the Latino community. In the future, Kreider plans to widen the project to include immigration status, country of origin, and use information from older censuses to examine how cities have changed. He also hopes that it will be an effective resource for city planning and journalists.

Another new map, released by the Tax Foundation, looks at how far $100 goes in each of the 50 states. Not surprisingly, your dollars stretch less in New York and California where $100 buys $86.66 and $88.57 respectively, compared to the national average. Illinois comes in close to the average at $99.40 whereas Mississippi sits at $115.74. One conclusion that could be made from such findings is to establish a higher minimum wage, but to make those adjustments based on regional price differentials. 22 states already do this by setting their own minimum wages beyond the federal rate of $7.25. Additionally, some companies have instituted a similar practice; at Ikea stores in the U.S., the base hourly wages range from $8.69 to $13.22 depending on the location. Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that this may be one way to close in on the income inequality gap on a local level and may be more effective than trying to push a dysfunctional Congress to pass a national minimum wage increase.

Photo by Eric Fischer, licensed under Creative Commons.