For Brunch: Charting & Mapping American Poverty

Brunching while delving into charts and maps isn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. But with my dog keeping me company (actually practically panting in my mouth), I decided to go on a digital hunt for the easiest data to read on American poverty.

The hunt was less brunch-y sophisticated and more like this:

Me: “Where are the CSVs?”

But finally I found a CSV file from the trusty United States Census Bureau that I was interested in, offered easy-to-understand information and could easily be mapped out. I signed into Datawrapper, clicked ‘Create a Chart’ and then copy and pasted the information into the page. The data did not transfer and I realized my chart was too complicated, so I created a second sheet in my downloaded .xls file with much more simplified information.

I renamed my sheets ‘Original Data’ and ‘Simplified Data’ because when it comes to numbers, I’m more susceptible to confusion than Black Friday crowds at Macy’s. This is also why I decided to focus only on data that showed the overall 3 year average of poverty for 2011 through 2013. The rest of the data from the census covered the averages for the time intervals of 2011–13 (three year average), 2010–11 (two year average) and 2012–13 (second two-year average.

I cleaned up my data which removed the redundant Mississippi rows and deleted empty rows.

After that tweaking, I copy/pasted my information back into Datawrapper and checked out the bar graph. I liked it, but felt the information would be more easily understood by going from the greatest to the smallest percentages. So, I went back to re-arrange the poverty percentage from greatest to the smallest, without regard for the confidence interval, since that’s a secondary concern. When I did this sorting, I made sure to expand the selection so that the information remained accurate.

Coming along coming along!

This change will help any reader look at the poverty level and directly point out where the percentage of people living in poverty is the highest in America.

I also changed the color from red to blue. I learned in a business marketing class in undergrad that marketers use the color red because it grabs attention and sparks a sense of urgency. This is why many clearance signs are red. Blue, on the other hand, contributes to a calming feeling. This is why many social media platforms (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc…) use the color blue for their interface. I think the color red is perfect because the feeling contributes to the story a journalist would most likely be trying to tell about poverty.

The website actually gave an option to re-size the frame and remove the scroll bar, but with 50 states, I felt a scroll bar made it more reader-friendly. Users would have the option to keep looking or not instead of being bombarded with a super long chart.


All done right? Wrong. Of course, there was the mapping monster I briefly forgot about. I went to Google Fusion Tables and realized I had to turn my Excel sheets into Google spreadsheets. This was an easy copy/paste dilemma. Once that was completed, I was able to select my sheet (the “Simplified Data Sheet”).

But I couldn’t find the map. I realized that I needed to click the ‘+’ button to add in a map and got the error message about needing to change one of the coloumns to ‘location’. A quick Google search showed me how to do that and I was able to turn on the location using geotags and viola! A map!

“But where are the pretty colors?” I wondered. After checking in with a classmate, I was reminded that I needed to change the feature styles and select ‘gradient’.

After changing it to pretty shades of pink and fixing the range, the map unfortunately did not reflect a change which is the same result many of us got in class so I didn’t feel too unaccomplished.

I successfully created a map!

A map!

Lol, but almost doesn’t count. I had to go back and get the color right with the Shape Escape. Here are the steps for that:

1. I went to the Census website and downloaded a state shape file.

2. I then went to Shape Escape and uploaded the zip file.

3. I went back to Google fusions and merged them:

4. I then went to map in Google fusions, selected ‘feature styles’ and then changed the gradient.

5. I chose my range as 0 to 20.

6. I then edited the fields so that when you click each state, you only see the state, percentage and 90% confidence interval

7. I then changed the gradient to PINKISH PURPLE! Finally!

8. After changing the gradient, I had to edit the legend.

9. And I have a legend!

The information shown on the map and chart carefully lays out the percentage of poverty in each state. Readers could scroll through the bar chart and see how each state fares with poverty and how they compare with other states. They could also review the map and see the same information in another way. One could click or scroll and see that New Mexico surprisingly has the highest poverty percentage and New Hampshire has the lowest. New York falls nearly in the middle, which is also a surprise giving the huge population of homeless people and struggling working class.

This hunt lasted well beyond my allotted brunch time, but mission complete! I learned quite a bit.

New HaData journalism is tedious. Kudos to all who do it!

*Edited to include the steps to getting the colors correct on the map with Shape Escape. ; )

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