The Sad Truth About American Poverty
Depending on who you are and where you are from, you may think that Americans are either extremely rich or extremely poor. Many Americans truly do fit on one of these extreme ends of the spectrum. The middle class has been shrinking for decades and it is easy to assume that we are a society that is divided by social class. The sad truth is that we are so divided that most of us cannot even notice.
What I mean is that rich and poor Americans live in completely different worlds that often do not overlap at all. The wealthy people of this country live in certain towns, shop at specific stores and may not interact with people who are struggling financially on a day to day basis. Let me show you.
These two images show one of the saddest realities about life in America. The color of each dot represents the average wealth distribution of a particular area. Notice clusters of extreme wealth in the Northeast corridor, particularly between Boston and Washington D.C., and in California. Also pay attention to just how dark most of the rest of the country is. This is what I mean.
Let's zoom in.
This is the world that I grew up in. For most of my life I never left the area of this map. I thought I knew how the world worked; my childhood was surrounded by affluence. I thought that three car garages, granite countertops, private schools and expensive clothes were average. It was rare that I interacted with someone who came from a different world. Nearly my entire region belonged to the wealthiest 5% of society, but I had no idea.
Imagine what it might be like living here instead.
In fact, it is much more likely to come from a place like this than from where I did. Dark shades of impoverished blue cover the majority of the country. Living here, it may be possible to think that wealth is made up and that average means government assistance, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if you and your family will have enough to eat.
Bridging the Gap
We truly are more divided as a country than many of us even know. We are so segregated by class that it is really difficult to see those who are not like us, even when we are paying attention. Our perceptions of our country are so skewed. Perhaps the best thing for all of us would be if these colors were spread more evenly around the map. We could all learn so much from increased exposure to those who are the most different from us.