Visualizations of Inequality

Southeast Quadrant, NYC service map from the 1990s

So, back in the olden days before I was ready to settle down somewhere sensible, I lived in New York for a few years. First I lived in Chelsea with a roommate from college, and then I moved to a huge and sketchily-managed apartment off of 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. (I paid my rent, in cash, by handing it over personally to my landlord. He would helpfully sit outside my building on the first of the month for that purpose.) The map above displays the wealth of subway options available to someone who lived in my neck of the woods in the later-1990s.

The New Yorker has produced an excellent visualization of inequality through measuring how median income changes from subway stop to subway stop. Following this version of the subway map produces an especially wild ride because New York is the country’s most unequal city. One of the most popular ways of measuring inequality is with a Gini coefficient measuring dispersion of income. Gini coefficients are read in the following way: if everyone had exactly the same income, the coefficient would be 0, and if all of the income went to only one person the coefficient would be 1.  New York tops all other locations in the US in this game with a Gini coefficient of over .5 for the entire metropolitan area and over .6 for New York County (Manhattan) itself.  For reference, that means that New York City is on par with the most unequal countries in the world, Lesotho and South Africa.

Would you like to see what that looks like through exploring the tracks of New York’s subways? If you’ve lived there, you can start from your own memorable stop and move in either direction. For the most dramatic ride, check out the 2, which ranges from a median neighborhood income of $205,192 in Lower Manhattan to a median income of $13,750 in the Bronx.


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