What Poverty Steals

I’m fascinated by the tangle of life expectancy, wealth and poverty, income inequality and social mobility.

My data viz was prompted by new research detailing poor people’s shorter life expectancies and The Atlantic article about the 47 percent of cash-strapped Americans who said they couldn’t come up with $400 for an unexpected expense.

Economic stability is about income, but it’s also about assets and wealth. It’s about having a cushion to shield you from the inevitable unexpected expense of car repairs or a medical emergency.

Poor people don’t have that margin of error, which is one of the reasons that economic mobility is so low.  Kids who are born poor in Shelby County (the county that holds Memphis) die poor. Only 2.6 percent of children raised in the bottom quintile of household income in the Memphis area rise to the top quintile by adulthood. According to a New York Times interactive, “Shelby County is very bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is better than only about 9 percent of counties.”

Since Shelby County is majority black and a disproportionate share of the poor people are black, I wanted to focus specifically on black people. (Hispanics also have an insanely high poverty rate, but there’s relatively few of them in Shelby County/Memphis and most are recent immigrants.)

Here’s what I wanted to determine for people in the county where I live, Shelby County:

If poor people had the same life expectancy of rich people, how much more could they expect to earn over those additional working years? If you add up all those dollars, how many millions of dollars are poor black people in Shelby County forfeiting simply because they’re poor, black and live where they do?

If I could answer this question, I wanted to show the data similar to how Periscopic animated the years lost to gun deaths. http://guns.periscopic.com/?year=2013

periscopic gun deathsSpoiler alert: I don’t have the data to answer the question I was trying to answer. Especially not on the $$ end.

Nevertheless, I did a short video, 1:06. And I figured out how to add music.

I was going to build a little bar chart showing the difference in life expectancy between poor people and rich people in Shelby County – or one comparing the income disparity in life expectancy by the biggest counties in Tennessee, but there wasn’t a whole lot of difference. And I can do a bar chart, so I was trying to figure out what I didn’t know how to do.

*** I’m pretty sure my math is all wrong, because there’s far more than 26,000 black adults in Shelby County who are poor (as defined by living in the bottom quartile of household income). Would love to think through how to answer my question with someone who knows.

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