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Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks
January 4, 2013 3:36 PM   Subscribe

See how much money people make in every neighborhood in every city in America with Rich Blocks, Poor Blocks, a map that displays wealth distributions across US cities (and states).
posted by EvaDestruction (59 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fascinating. My neighborhood is very, very red, surrounded by some orange, surrounded by a good bit of yellow, flanking some very, very green.

Hellooo, ethnic neighborhood in Chicago!
posted by phunniemee at 3:43 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also see the series of interactive maps by the New York Times which utilize census data.

http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer
posted by graxe at 3:48 PM on January 4, 2013


Current home: My block is yellow, surrounded by a sea of green, which borders two blocks of yellow and then suddenly dark red. Welcome to the north side of Chicago.

Family home from the same state: Compared to the above, it's surprising how a census tract which contains 1/3 of a county isn't an accurate because it really blends what some people in a farm community make with everyone else into lots of Illinois being the same shade of yellow despite much of that same area seeming a lot poorer by my estimation. "[E]very neighborhood in every city in America" is much truer for cities than it is for more rural places.

On preview: Dang it, phunniemee.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:49 PM on January 4, 2013


Well, I live in Very Fancy Suburb, OH so this is the least surprising map ever. Obviously my little apartment complex did not skew any data.
posted by gypsyroseme at 3:51 PM on January 4, 2013


Yeah, the area I live in looks exactly like I thought. What's a bit tough for me to get my mind around is that we live in a wealthier area than my parents.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:54 PM on January 4, 2013


The median income in our tract is a third of the one immediately south of it.

It's not the sharpest boundary in the city. One of the worst I've found has a tract with a fifth of the median income of an adjacent one.
posted by jedicus at 3:56 PM on January 4, 2013


I can't find a key. Based on what I know of local neighborhoods, I'm thinking red is high income. Then yellow, then green? How fine is it graded? How many shades, I guess is what I mean?
posted by not that girl at 3:58 PM on January 4, 2013


The NW/SE divide in Washington DC is pretty stark.
posted by empath at 3:58 PM on January 4, 2013


The key is in the lower right hand corner. Red is lower income. It is very finely graded.
posted by boo_radley at 3:59 PM on January 4, 2013


This site isn't even close what it says on the tin. Boundaries are census tracts, which in my area encompass lots and lots of blocks. I'm not in a rural area either. Would have been a lot more interesting if it had actually been granular to the block-level.
posted by spudsilo at 3:59 PM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was amused by the university-shaped bright red patch in the middle of a sea of green, for UW (median income $5,000: next door, median income $110,000). Are most colleges like that?
posted by jacalata at 4:00 PM on January 4, 2013


Yeah, University of MD was the same way -- ave income - $18k
posted by empath at 4:02 PM on January 4, 2013


Doesn't show much detail for my area either - it's mostly by town.
posted by evening at 4:05 PM on January 4, 2013


I earn more than my neighbors...no big surprise...
posted by dfriedman at 4:06 PM on January 4, 2013


Manhattan/Harlem is very striking. You have the 5th Avenue/Madison Avenue mid 200s and less than a mile away is 20-something red.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:06 PM on January 4, 2013


On further inspection, it appears that my block is THE reddest block in like a 5 block radius. It's like they knew I was unemployed and broke as shit for over a year in another part of the city, and retroactively redistributed that after I moved here.
posted by phunniemee at 4:07 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most universities are like that.

I think the reason for this is that students living off-campus but nearby have low "incomes" (because they're not self-supporting). If you could somehow map how much money people have access to you'd get results that better reflected what you see on the ground.

If you look at Cambridge, MA you don't see this. Cambridge has two universities that you may have heard of - but in both cases almost all students live on-campus. I think (although I'm not sure) that on-campus students are usually counted with their parents.

Across the river, the area around BU shows up as red - but the Internet tells me most BU students live on campus. On the other hand, the area around BU houses a lot of MIT fraternity houses...
posted by madcaptenor at 4:16 PM on January 4, 2013


jacalata: "I was amused by the university-shaped bright red patch in the middle of a sea of green, for UW (median income $5,000: next door, median income $110,000). Are most colleges like that?"

In DC, Georgetown's campus itself is excluded and Georgetown itself looks posh green, but the region around George Washington University's urban campus in the southern part of the NW quadrant is red.

spudsilo: "This site isn't even close what it says on the tin. Boundaries are census tracts, which in my area encompass lots and lots of blocks. I'm not in a rural area either. Would have been a lot more interesting if it had actually been granular to the block-level."

My SO works for the Census and the title confused her too. Apparently income data, since it's from the ACS, is only available at the tract level.
posted by exogenous at 4:18 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The NW/SE divide in Washington DC is pretty stark.

Give it a quarter-turn and you have Atlanta's NE/SW divide. You can also easily spot where the the interstates plowed right through the historically black neighborhoods, creating a dead zone just east of downtown.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:23 PM on January 4, 2013


Unsurprised my neighborhood was deepest red.
posted by _paegan_ at 4:30 PM on January 4, 2013


An excellent way to see the necrotic core of Jackson, Mississippi. Nice People work in Jackson and commute to Ridgeland, which is perfectly green and right next door.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:30 PM on January 4, 2013


Every place I've lived is a nice, vibrant shade of green, except for one, a mustard yellow. When I lived there I got a lot of "OMG how can you live there!?" from my peers.

This makes me realize certain things about myself.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:39 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Los Angeles looks pretty much exactly like I expected it to. I dunno if that's good or bad.
posted by Justinian at 4:40 PM on January 4, 2013


I'm trying to figure out if there's any logic behind the good-sized patches of green in East Flatbush and Canarsie in Brooklyn -- I've lived and worked in these places, and if the average household is making $70,000 a year, I can't figure out how.
posted by Jeanne at 4:41 PM on January 4, 2013


The Minneapolis area doesn't really fit with my expectations. Sure, North Minneapolis is red as I expected, but so is most of Northeast, which is hip and safe and mostly-white. A lot of the far-out exurbs appear to be staggeringly wealthy, even though I've driven through those areas and seen a lot of run-down houses and trailer parks.

Seattle, on the other hand, is exactly what I'd expect (from having lived there too). They've managed to push poverty mostly outside the city limits, which sure makes the city itself look very green.
posted by miyabo at 4:47 PM on January 4, 2013


Something very odd is going on in Santa Monica - the tract that overlays the pier and downtown is red. That... doesn't seem right at all.
posted by flaterik at 4:48 PM on January 4, 2013


Miyabo, I respectfully submit that the Seattle city limit is not located at Interstate 90. Lots of oranges and reds between there and the line at Renton....
posted by Sublimity at 4:51 PM on January 4, 2013


My census tract encompasses both the wealthiest neighborhood in town and the low-income apartments, so it comes in right at the median income for Minnesota. If you split it exactly down the middle, you would have one yellow-to-orange neighborhood and one dark green.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:52 PM on January 4, 2013


I couldn't find any tract with an average income much over $200k. I wonder if it doesn't count capital gains as income?
posted by jewzilla at 4:53 PM on January 4, 2013


Los Altos Hills in the Bay Area had an average of $222K. And Stanford was like those other universities, red/orange surrounded by a sea of green.
posted by GuyZero at 5:00 PM on January 4, 2013


Oddly, I seem to have almost exactly the median income for my neighborhood. I was surprised I was able to find such a good deal on my rent, but maybe I just lucked into the exact right neighborhood for my budget.

Across the river, the area around BU shows up as red - but the Internet tells me most BU students live on campus.

IME, that area is full of students but even more so, recent grads. Some trust fund-type kids but a lot of people living 4 to a 2 BR and stuff like that. There are also a LOT of immigrants in that area.
posted by lunasol at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2013


In my downtown LA arts district neighborhood, many people got very "creative" on their census forms--at least the few that didn't throw them away or ignore the guy with the clipboard.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:14 PM on January 4, 2013


Oh, and on the university neighborhood thing: the figures about students living on-campus is probably mostly undergrads. Neighborhoods around universities like UW and BU will have a LOT of grad students, who are usually living on tiny stipends.
posted by lunasol at 5:16 PM on January 4, 2013


GREEN. YES!
posted by Renoroc at 5:18 PM on January 4, 2013


Miyabo, the Seattle map is all screwy.

The Denny Triangle neighborhood, right on the north side of the retailer corridor, has two luxury hi-rises that run about $1,500/month for a 400-square-foot studio, multi-million-dollar condos, and the site of Amazon's new HQ. It's mostly red, some yellow. The retail core itself, home to high-end retail stores and obnoxiously expensive condos is also entirely red.

Meanwhile just about the crappiest part of Seattle, Belltown around 2nd & Vine, is shown in all green. I mean, it's not the projects, but it's all low-end clubs, homeless and drug dealers after dark. The housing is mostly low-priced and dilapidated with bars on the windows.

Seattle looks exactly the opposite of what you describe - the heart of the city is all red and orange, with the green on the fringes. Even Bellevue has a lot of yellow. That seems absolutely backwards compared to my experience living here.
posted by Vox Nihili at 5:28 PM on January 4, 2013


This site isn't even close what it says on the tin. Boundaries are census tracts, which in my area encompass lots and lots of blocks. I'm not in a rural area either. Would have been a lot more interesting if it had actually been granular to the block-level.

Yes, and it would have been nice if they had shaved the polygons to match coastlines and not used a gradient with an indeterminate number of divisions and little color variation between greens.


But then, I am fussy about map design. There's just no good reason not to tick off the monetary differences between gradients. Also every state has a different dollar meaning for very red and very green. To be red in Missouri is not the same as being red in California.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:32 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Would be nice if there was some mouseover data to give you details on a spot, instead of giving a vague relative idea on the scale.
posted by Foosnark at 5:54 PM on January 4, 2013


Wow you can really see the gutting of the USA inner city, looking at Seattle as an example. I would have thought with Amazonand other tech companies in the downtown area there would be more green.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:05 PM on January 4, 2013


Huh. I thought I would turn out to be an exception to my block, but no, I'm smack in the middle of the range.

Looking at the town in which I grew up and went to high school, it's sort of a really vivid simplification of what felt like a lot of complex tensions. A red "West Side" of blacks and Latinos, a light green "east side," bordering a yellow town-next-door and a deep rich green other-town-next-door. No wonder it was quite an American microcosm, and no wonder these tensions about class were so inescapable as to have preoccupied me throughout my life.

This makes so visible the ways in which we sequester poverty.
posted by Miko at 6:05 PM on January 4, 2013


Where I live now is yellow, which I expected, but slightly down the road (in the so-called 'bad part of town' according to my folks) is definitely red. My folks live in a quite green area (no surprise there).

Where I went to college is quite red (and in the surrounding area a bit too), but it gets a bit yellower as you go further away.
posted by sperose at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2013


Would be nice if there was some mouseover data to give you details on a spot, instead of giving a vague relative idea on the scale.

But there is! Well, not mouseover, but if you click a census tract, it pops up a box with all the info you're looking for.
posted by indubitable at 6:16 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The more I think about this map, the less I like it. Downtowny areas are all red, not because households are poor but because households are smaller -- single people live in apartments much more than married couples. A map of per capita income would look very different.
posted by miyabo at 6:23 PM on January 4, 2013


A map of per capita income would look very different

Yes, but it would also reveal different things. Household income matters. Multiple-person households are more financially efficient, freeing up dollars for investing in other things - education, maintenance, clothes, whatever. And so much is calculated on a household basis (health insurance, car insurance in some states, tax assessments) that it makes some sense to be able to see households as the basis of a cluster.
posted by Miko at 6:31 PM on January 4, 2013


Oh, and on the university neighborhood thing: the figures about students living on-campus is probably mostly undergrads. Neighborhoods around universities like UW and BU will have a LOT of grad students, who are usually living on tiny stipends.

As someone who was a grad student not that long ago, I'm kind of embarrassed to have forgotten this.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:49 PM on January 4, 2013


living on tiny stipends.

But why isn't this relevant? People living on tiny incomes are people living on tiny incomes, and they live where rent is lower.

Is there some suggestion here that they aren't "real" poor people?

What differentiates them from "real" poor people, if they make the same income and live in the same neighborhood? That is the really interesting question, and its answers can be quite revealing about how structures of poverty self-replicate.
posted by Miko at 7:00 PM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cambridge is less green than I would have thought.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:10 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


For Milwaukee, you can see the richer people live in the western suburbs (or right along the lake). There's an interesting blip near my neighborhood, where people close to a large local park have a slightly higher average income.
posted by drezdn at 7:15 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Crazy that every little city in my state has its own little red section. Would be interested in seeing one that goes into more detail for higher incomes.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:17 PM on January 4, 2013


I couldn't find any tract with an average income much over $200k. I wonder if it doesn't count capital gains as income?

It's not average income; it's median income. A tiny difference that really has a huge effect when dealing with exponentially rich people.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:30 PM on January 4, 2013


The Minneapolis area doesn't really fit with my expectations. Sure, North Minneapolis is red as I expected, but so is most of Northeast, which is hip and safe and mostly-white. A lot of the far-out exurbs appear to be staggeringly wealthy, even though I've driven through those areas and seen a lot of run-down houses and trailer parks.

Zoom in a little more. Waite Park/Audobon Park/Columbia Heights are all very light green with medians of $53-$68k and St. Anthony is a darker green with a median of about $83,000. I was also surprised by some of the suburbs. We all know that the western suburbs in general have a lot of money but even St. Bonifacius has a median of $97,000. That's far west enough to practically qualify as North Dakota. I would definitely consider it rural.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:09 PM on January 4, 2013


living on tiny stipends.

But why isn't this relevant? People living on tiny incomes are people living on tiny incomes, and they live where rent is lower.

Is there some suggestion here that they aren't "real" poor people?


Not at all. I wasn't at all arguing that it was irrelevant - quite the opposite. I was responding to an earlier commenter who didn't understand why areas around universities would have lower incomes.
posted by lunasol at 10:38 PM on January 4, 2013


Here in San Francisco, the rich among the rich live in Pacific Heights and Sea Cliff. Census (income numbers are - I believe -built from tax records) show reported median incomes of just north of 150k in these elite hoods. There maybe some fishy stinky there for an independent minded investigative journalist or blogger with a bone to pick on the 1%.

These are ultra rich neighborhoods. Houses in the multi-millions. What does that mean? Macro scale evidence of widespread tax evasion? Ghettos buried in the basements of mansions housing median draggers? Inheritance isn't income and the rich are mostly the children of the rich? With a Larry Ellison thrown in? Capital gains are income right? I'm genuinely curious how this can be explained.

At night most of these mansions are dark. That means the owners probably have other mansions in other places too which they manage to maintain on three times the national family median income. There are some consulates I guess, but take a Google Street View walk down upper Broadway and remember city nurses earn 180k in sf to meet the tent poled cost of living in this town.
posted by astrobiophysican at 10:58 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm genuinely curious how this can be explained.

The data comes -- per the site -- from the American Community Survey (ACS), a fine product of the Census Bureau, which has nothing to do with tax records. Here's a quote:

The income data shown in ACS tabulations are not directly comparable with those that may be obtained from statistical summaries of income tax returns. Income, as defined for federal tax purposes, differs somewhat from the Census Bureau concept. Moreover, the coverage of income tax statistics is different because of the exemptions for people having small amounts of income and the inclusion of net capital gains in tax returns. (page 84 of this PDF, emphasis mine.)

So ACS income doesn't include capital gains, nor would it include inheritance, stock options, gains in a corporation owned by a person (it does include self-employment income), or withdrawal from savings. I'm guessing part of this is because the Census is trying to track and understand trends over time, and if Jed Clampett strikes oil on his land one day while shootin' for some food, it's a one-time event that would distort the long-term trend. Part of this is also that the main purpose of the income information on the Census is to find out about poverty, for the purpose of poverty-alleviating programs, and a detailed questioning of capital gains isn't going to really change this all that much.

I looked at a bunch of 2007-2011 ACS data for one high income census tract in particular, 428, the angular tract in Sea Cliff that overlooks China Beach. The median income from the linked site is $154K +/- $55K. Roughly 10% of the houses have values under $750K, 10% are $750K-1M, and they topcode at $1M, so that's all we get. I looked around in Zillow, and there are a lot more $1.5M houses then there are $5.1M. The dramatic looking-over-the-ocean houses are all multi-million dollar houses, but once you're a block away, the prices drop below $2M. (Not only are the super-expensive houses more dramatic, they also occupy more land, so there may be two cheaper houses in the same space elsewhere in the tract.)

Turns out they report the income for houses with and without a mortgage. The values of the houses are similar from the very little I can tell, but the 30% of households without a mortgage have a median household income of only $109K +/- $122K(!), while the 70% of households with an income have a median household income over $250K (the topcode). They also report the age of the householder and the year they moved in. About 35% of the households are seniors, who mostly moved into the neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. About 55% are younger households, who mostly moved in in the last 15-20 years. The last 10% are renters, who have mostly moved in in the last 10 years.

So there's a big chunk of retirees, who have relatively little income by Census definitions since they are mostly living off savings and investments. (IRAs, pensions and annuities are included in the Census definition of income.) Most of them are going to be well under the $150K mark. Many of them may have bought their houses back for a much more moderate price -- I know the area was never cheap, but I'm thinking attainable for working professionals and middle managers rather than landed gentry -- and they are holding on to them, because it's their home. A chunk of the working-age people are going to earn income mostly through things like capital gains and stock options rather than the sorts of incomes that the Census considers -- like that one Bay Area resident who famously had $1 in annual income.

So that median income is probably closer to the bottom quartile of households earning Census income, and 20% of the houses are worth under $1M. I plugged $154K annual income into an arbitrary maximum-mortgage calculator and got something like $950K. Pretty internally consistent.


At night most of these mansions are dark. That means the owners probably have other mansions in other places too which they manage to maintain on three times the national family median income.

Or perhaps they, you know, are watching TV. Or working late.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:12 AM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Denny Triangle neighborhood, right on the north side of the retailer corridor, has two luxury hi-rises that run about $1,500/month for a 400-square-foot studio, multi-million-dollar condos, and the site of Amazon's new HQ. It's mostly red, some yellow. The retail core itself, home to high-end retail stores and obnoxiously expensive condos is also entirely red.

Meanwhile just about the crappiest part of Seattle, Belltown around 2nd & Vine, is shown in all green. I mean, it's not the projects, but it's all low-end clubs, homeless and drug dealers after dark. The housing is mostly low-priced and dilapidated with bars on the windows.


Amazon didn't start really moving into their new place in SLU until around mid 2010 (my old team was one of the first to move), and most of the existing employees already had housing setup. The area has seen a decentt number of young new Amazon employees moving in since then. But if this is census data, that's probably not reflected. Before Amazon, Denny Triangle was a barren wasteland, with cheap housing but mostly industrial.

And if you think Belltown is sleazy now, well, you should have seen it a couple decades ago. I'll admit, I wasn't here then. But even in 2008 when I moved to Seattle it was a lot of high-priced condos and apartments. The violence associated with the club-scene is mostly bros and other bridge/ferry/freeway kids. Yeah, the area around 3rd and Bell is a bit sketchy, but it's surrounded by high-priced sushi restaurants, "ultra-lounges" (a great asshole-level proxy) and new apartments.
posted by formless at 3:15 AM on January 5, 2013


You can find neighborhoods over 200k if you look at the Potomac river shore in Fairfax county, va
posted by empath at 6:09 AM on January 5, 2013


I share oneirodynia's quibbles about the cartography; it's sloppy and the title is just wrong. It's definitely not the worst map I've ever seen, but it should have included some caveats.
posted by desjardins at 10:35 AM on January 5, 2013


Basically, if you're not going to explain the data and what it includes/excludes, you shouldn't be making a map and claiming to represent something of importance. Just be honest and say "I wanted to make something pretty that was fun to do, but don't take it seriously."
posted by desjardins at 10:39 AM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoa. My current Philadelphia block is on the edge of a glaringly obvious light yellow patch, surrounded by red on all sides. Varying shades of red, admittedly, but all red nonetheless.

Contrast this with my old DC neighborhood, which is light red, but with a yellow patch immediately to the west, darker red immediately to the east followed by yellow again, even some dark green a bit further east.

This was a neighborhood east of the Anacostia River in DC. For those not in the know about the DC area, everything east of the Anacostia is widely assumed to be poor and extraordinarily dangerous. I had to reassure plenty of friends they wouldn't get shot on the way to my house.

People actively shied away from visiting my old place, because they knew of the neighborhood's reputation for poverty, and made assumptions about correlations between poverty and crime. But my old area turns out to be way more economically diverse than my current one--an enclave of middle/upper-middle class families and middle/low income 20 and 30-somethings surrounded by uniform poverty on all sides. Go figure.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:32 PM on January 5, 2013


Interesting concept, but these maps are just about useless for those of us who are red-green colorblind. They should have consulted ColorBrewer 2.0: Color advice for Cartography.
posted by Dead Man at 9:05 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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