What’s the motivation behind the map?
- Encouraging Christ’s followers to intentionally live where they are needed most in the United States. Encouraging Christians to ask “where can I empower others?” as their default first question when making real estate decisions instead of “what’s the nicest neighborhood I can afford?”
- Making a better map. Most demographic maps only show a single statistic: poverty, median income, or median age, but this map does more: it shows two separate dimensions of demography at once.
This map shows two characteristics at once for each census tract in the country: one an index of resources and power (educational achievement, income, children living with two parents, etc.) and another an index of need / under-resourced families / lack of power (poverty, low educational achievement, unemployment, children living without both parents, etc.).
Each ellipse/oval on this map has both a height and a width, and each represents a census tract. The width of each bubble is linked to the need index in that neighborhood. The height is linked to the resource index in that neighborhood. Tall and skinny bubbles generally indicate exclusive neighborhoods that the poor cannot afford to live in and that have huge material, educational resources–in a word power. Short and wide bubbles (some almost entirely flat) are neighborhoods which are significantly under-resourced and which have been vacated by those with resources. A child growing up in such neighborhoods has significantly less opportunity to get a good education and a good income when older.
There are different approaches to serving the poor. Sometimes, people from resourced neighborhoods write checks to nonprofits or give them canned goods for their food pantries. While this is not inherently wrong, it’s not clear that it’s doing much to empower families and break the isolation that reinforces generational poverty. If poverty were primarily an issue of not having enough stuff, this would be a great solution and within a few years these short and flat neighborhoods (as they appear on this map) would be back on their feet. We wouldn’t even have to build buildings to house the food pantries–maybe just set up a tent!
Poverty, however, is more than a lack of stuff. The resources missing from an impoverished community are much more complex than money. So some Christians have started approaching high-need urban communities differently. They believe that people in need are best served when Christians move next door instead of simply sending money from afar (or come do a one-week service project). You don’t need a seminary degree or a degree in social work. These people simply move, and they go about their lives as friends and neighbors. You don’t have to quit your job to move in–in fact it’s often best that you keep your job and your connections to the business world. These connections may prove invaluable in serving neighbors who desperately need a chance at a job.
American culture places a high value on climbing to the top. If you can afford to move to a nicer neighborhood, you should do so. If you can get a better job, a better car, a bigger swimming pool, you should. The followers of Jesus, however, have a long history of being counter-cultural. Jesus set the example for us–he did not pursue comfort or power during his time on earth.
Will you considering making one of your next charitable checks a down payment on a home in an under-resourced community? Will you live humbly upon arriving, not assuming that you have all the answers? Will you recruit others to come join you in loving a neighborhood without the opportunity, resources, and stability that many Americans take for granted? Will you help change the shape of a flattened bubble into something more rounded and whole?