Inequality in New York City, 1960-2010

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Note: The concept for this post comes from Daniel Kay Hertz, who produced several maps showing the decline of the middle-class in Chicago from 1970 to 2012. I really loved how the maps dramatized the rise of inequality in Chicago, and realized it would be interesting to basically copy that concept for other cities, such as New York. To create these maps, I used census tract data from the National Historical Geographic Information System. 

Skyrocketing inequality has become one of the defining political issues of our time. Presidential candidacies have been built on highlighting how skewed the distribution of income and wealth are in this country. But it can still be hard to understand inequality on a personal level. After all, it’s one thing to hear that the top 0.1% of Americans own as much wealth as the bottom 90%. It’s another thing to understand how that inequality has actually affected your hometown, or even your own neighborhood.

These maps illustrate the rise of economic segregation in New York City. The concept of “economic segregation” is related to income inequality, but it is not the exact same thing. Theoretically, income inequality could be rising but people could still choose to live in economically diverse neighborhoods. However, Pew Research and other researchers have found that the opposite is occurring, and that people are actually economically segregating themselves at an even faster rate than income inequality is growing. Economic segregation hasn’t gotten the same attention as growing wealth and income inequality, but in many ways it is a more personal and local phenomenon. With these maps, I hope that people can trace the evolution of their own neighborhoods, and see how areas that were once middle-class have transformed into areas that are almost exclusively populated by the very rich or the very poor.

To create these maps the median income of each census tract (which is roughly equivalent to a neighborhood) is compared to the median income of the New York area as a whole. Census tracts that are significantly poorer than the rest of the city are colored in red, those that are significantly richer are colored in green. Tracts with a median income right in the middle are colored light grey (dark grey is used for those tracts which reported no income data, usually parks or industrial areas). Thus light grey areas on the map roughly correspond to “middle-class” neighborhoods.


If you look at the animated GIF above, you can see that whereas most of New York City was colored light grey in 1960, indicating middle-class areas, by 2010 the vast majority of these areas had disappeared. In their place today are stark economic divides between neighborhoods.

Manhattan is the poster child for this change. That isn’t to say that in 1960 the island did not have any sort of economic segregation. The island had low-income neighborhoods such as Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Lower East Side, and high-income neighborhoods like the Upper West Side and Midtown. Despite the presence of these areas, around half of the census tracts in Manhattan were still middle-class. But by 2010 these middle-class areas had all but disappeared from the city, with only a few pockets remaining. Manhattan today is sharply divided between extremely rich areas where residents frequently make over 200% of the New York average, and extremely poor areas where people are often making less than 45% of the city average. Those areas that do appear as middle-class on the map are mainly located in rapidly gentrifying areas such as Hell’s Kitchen, which suggests that soon they will join the sea of green, upper-income neighborhoods.

The Bronx has also seen a huge increase in economic segregation. Whereas Manhattan today is fairly evenly divided between low-income and high-income areas, the Bronx is mostly made up of low-income areas. But it was not always this way, as in 1960 the Bronx was overwhelmingly middle-class. During the 1970s, the Bronx lost over 300,000 residents, with Howard Coswell famously remarking that “The Bronx is burning”, during the 1977 World Series.  The transition occurred quickly, with a large and very low-income area appearing in the South Bronx by 1980. However, some middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods do remain in the Bronx, especially in the northwest and northeast portions of the borough.

Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island have also seen most of their middle-class areas disappear over the past 50 years. I’m not a New York native; I’ve never been to Staten Island and I’ve only been to Queens a few times. Each of these boroughs and their neighborhoods have a unique story of growing economic segregation and inequality, driven by issues like white flight, urban decay, and gentrification. I don’t know enough about these stories to detail them in this post, but I hope others can examine the maps who have more local knowledge than me. This applies to the suburban areas outside New York City as well. I don’t know much about cities like Passaic, Paterson, and Newark, but you can see the growing inequality in these areas as well. New York City is not unique.

I would love for people to use these maps to examine the story of inequality in their own neighborhood. Most of these stories are pretty depressing, as the vast majority of neighborhoods have become more economically segregated, with only a few that became middle-class in the past half century. But these maps also give some reasons for hope. 1960 was less than 60 years ago, and in that map we can see a different vision of New York City. Obviously there were other huge issues back then, but the vast majority of people lived in middle-class and economically mixed areas. If that ideal existed once, it can exist again.

Below are large image versions of each map for you to peruse. 







Note on data: This data was taken from the NHGIS. They did not have median income data for 1960 and 1970 by census tract, so I estimated the median income based on income brackets they did include. I assumed that there was a uniform distribution of incomes within each bracket, which is obviously an oversimplification, so the data from 1960 and 1970 should be taken with a grain of salt. However, even if this method did underestimate inequality in 1960/70, there is still a large enough difference to make the growth of economic segregation clear. 

Data Source:

Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.



Average Win % for Major Professional Sports Teams by City, 1990-2015


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City Average Championships
San Antonio 0.68 5
Green Bay 0.61 2
Oklahoma City 0.61 0
Salt Lake City 0.60 0
Portland 0.57 0
San Francisco 0.56 5
Indianapolis 0.56 1
Boston 0.55 8
Pittsburgh 0.55 5
Montreal 0.54 1
Dallas 0.53 5
Calgary 0.53 0
San Jose 0.53 0
Anaheim 0.52 2
Nashville 0.52 0
Vancouver 0.52 0
Denver 0.52 4
Philadelphia 0.52 1
Chicago 0.52 10
Buffalo 0.52 0
St Louis 0.52 3
Ottawa 0.51 0
Seattle 0.51 1
Houston 0.51 2
Raleigh 0.51 1
Baltimore 0.51 2
Los Angeles 0.51 7
New York 0.51 9
New Jersey 0.51 3
Detroit 0.50 6
Miami 0.50 5
Phoenix 0.50 1
Orlando 0.50 0
Kansas City 0.49 1
New Orleans 0.49 1
Memphis 0.49 0
Toronto 0.49 2
San Diego 0.49 0
Winnipeg 0.48 0
Minneapolis 0.48 1
Edmonton 0.48 1
Columbus 0.47 0
Cleveland 0.47 0
Washington 0.46 1
Oakland 0.46 1
Atlanta 0.46 1
Jacksonville 0.46 0
Cincinnati 0.46 1
Milwaukee 0.46 0
Sacramento 0.44 0
Hartford 0.44 0
Tampa Bay 0.43 2
Quebec City 0.43 0
Charlotte 0.41 0

Combined Presidential Elections, 1856-2012



This map uses election data from 1856 to 2012 to show the most Republican and Democratic states over US presidential election history. This map was NOT created by adding all the total votes for each party in each state and comparing them, as that would put more weight on more recent elections. Instead, an average was taken of the two-party share of the vote in each state, after eliminating votes for third-party candidates. So, if a state voted 40% republican, 45% republican, and 50% republican in three elections, it would average 45% republican, even if significantly more votes were cast in one election than the others.

The data starts in 1856 because that’s when the Republican party first debuted in a presidential election.

A few observations based on this map:

– A lot of the presidential geography we take for granted is very recent. The South is a mostly Republican area today, but was the “Solid South” for the Democrats for over a century. Even after the battle over Civil Rights switched the South to the Republicans, Democratic presidential candidates could compete in that region. Carter swept most of the South in 1976, and in 1980 it was one of his stronger regions in a landslide loss. Bill Clinton was able to win several southern states in both 1992 and 1996. And even Obama has won a few southern states in both 2008 and 2012. If we balance 100 years of solidly Democratic voting with 50 years of a slight Republican lean, we can see why the South comes out in this map as a Democratic region.

-Likewise, a state like Vermont that we think of as solidly Democratic is really a very recent addition to the Democratic coalition. The state didn’t switch sides until 1992, before that it was usually a solidly Republican state with Democrats only winning it in landslides such as 1964. Because of this long history as a Republican state, it is second only to Kansas in average Republican vote.

-If we were to use the current electoral college, and assign states based on which party got a higher share of the two-party vote from 1856 to 2012, the Democrats would win in a very close election, 296 electoral votes to 242.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 4.29.31 PM

-Looking at Republican states, their most consistent stronghold has been the Great Plains and the Western Mountain states:

State Republican Share of the Two Party Vote, 1856-2012
Kansas 61.38%
Vermont 60.79%
North Dakota 59.90%
Nebraska 59.75%
Idaho 59.48%
Alaska 59.01%
Wyoming 58.82%
Utah 57.01%
South Dakota 56.44%
Maine 55.11%
Iowa 53.77%
New Hampshire 53.62%
Michigan 53.30%
Oklahoma 53.22%
Colorado 53.05%
Pennsylvania 52.83%
Oregon 52.47%
Minnesota 52.47%
Wisconsin 52.13%
Indiana 52.13%
Nevada 51.61%
Ohio 51.43%
Arizona 51.34%
Washington 50.92%
Connecticut 50.84%
Massachusetts 50.78%
Illinois 50.46%
Montana 50.36%
New Jersey 50.13%
New Mexico 49.71%
California 49.40%
Rhode Island 49.20%
West Virginia 48.74%
New York 48.34%
Delaware 47.77%
Missouri 46.39%
Tennessee 45.10%
Kentucky 44.95%
Maryland 44.26%
North Carolina 43.56%
Virginia 43.33%
Hawaii 42.26%
Alabama 41.27%
Florida 40.07%
Arkansas 38.80%
Texas 37.86%
Georgia 34.39%
Louisiana 34.26%
South Carolina 31.64%
Mississippi 31.54%
District of Columbia 12.89%

Looking at the results above, the “swingiest” state has been New Jersey, where Republicans have won an average of 50.13% of the two-party vote since 1856.