Where’s the Money?: The Growth (and Loss) of Wealth in America

I’ve been itching to make a bivariate choropleth for the last few weeks, which is a map showing two variables along with their interaction (or lack thereof). In this case, I decided to choose county-level Median Household Income, adjusted for inflation, in the continental United States between 2010 and 2016, using the American Community Survey’s 5-year series (2010 and 2016 end years, respectively).

Here’s what I found:

(in case the above image is too low res, try this imgur link)

As you can see, there effectively four quadrants displayed here:

  • High Wealth, High Decline: These are areas that had greater than the 2010 National Median Household Income (~$49k) and tended towards more than a 15% decline in their spending power.
  • High Wealth, High Growth: These are also areas above the National Median Household Income of $49k, but which tended towards more than 15% growth in their spending power. Not a single county fell into this category, though there were ones with less growth or wealth that fit into the general quadrant.
  • Low Wealth, High Growth: Conversely to the first quadrant, these areas fell below the $49k Household Income line but experienced significant growth.
  • Low Wealth: Low Growth: This last quadrant saw the poorest Americans under the National Household Income Median, who continued to lose spending power between 2010–2016. An unlucky 7 counties had a sub-$30k Median Household Income in 2010-dollars and, by 2016, had lost more than 15% of their spending power.

If nothing else, this map should remind you that America is no one single place, but a collection of many places and many peoples, with many different struggles, achievements, starting points and endpoints. Nevertheless, all of these places and people constitute the organism that is America, and if one part begins to rot and wither, it will — eventually — affect the other parts as well.

P.S. In researching this bivariate choropleth, I came across this very amazing Washington Post map that inspired my legend and intra-state borders. I wanted to share it here, both as credit to them and because it’s very informative.

Michael Alwill is an independent analyst, writer, and designer, and you can find him either here on Medium, on his website, or on LinkedIn. Feel free to send him a message if you’d like to work together on a future project.