Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

D.C. Politicians out of touch with their citizens

Recently I stumbled upon the following and rather amazing infographic from graphic designer Luca Masud, by way of my favorite data visualization blog, FlowingData.

(Oh, yes, as it happens I am a geek. Why do you ask?)

What this graphic shows is poverty rates in four different age ranges, correlated against per-capita GDP for each state and the District of Columbia. Click to see the big version; it's worth it.

It's hard to read much detail out of the big blobby part in the middle, but detail isn't the story here. All the big blob means is that, by and large, poverty rates across America are reasonably consistent from state to state. As well, you can tell that children (the red blobs) generally have it worse off than adults (green), who are worse off than the elderly (purple).

It's the plight of children in this graphic that is the most telling, and the most emotionally compelling.

Most data analysis techniques either ignore outliers--data points that are well outside of the range of the majority of the data--or use techniques for minimizing the influence of those points on the overall analysis. Yet, it's the outliers which are the story here. And as is immediately obvious, there are two outliers having to do with children.

The vertical red lines connect the two worst instances of child poverty to their respective locations. The horizontal red line shows that these two spots are about equally bad.

Follow the vertical lines down to the map and you'll see that the worst children's poverty rates anywhere in America are in Mississippi and Washington D.C. In each location, more than one out of every three children lives in poverty, a rate that is nearly 150% worse than the national average.

The lowest per-capita GDP in the nation is in Mississippi, so perhaps we should not be surprised to find lot of poor children there. But the highest per-capita GDP in the nation is in Washington D.C.

Let that sink in for a minute. The nation's wealthiest city has the same rate of poor children as the nation's least wealthy state.

That, my friends, is messed up.

I can't begin to explain the underlying forces leading to this striking and shameful situation, but I can offer an observation.

Washington D.C. exists to be a gathering place, a workplace, for the nation's leaders. Men and women who, by and large, are considerably more wealthy than the average citizen. These are the people who make the policies and laws that govern our lives.

Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution gives the U.S. Congress ultimate authority over Washington D.C. In particular, Congress is responsible for D.C.'s budget.

The members of Congress are, with few exceptions, very rich people who live and work amid the most shameful collection of poor people in our nation, and are themselves the only ones with Constitutional authority to do anything about it.

If you want a numerical measure of the degree to which politicians are out of touch with the citizenry, I think you need look no further than the rich and powerful living and working amid the poorest of the poor, and doing nothing about it.


Blogger Harold Shaw said...

that is a lot of the problem, these men and women are well meaning (for the most part), but have so little in common with the "typical" American that they really don't know the day-to-day difficulties that those who don't have access to easy credit, educational opportunities or good health care.

It will be interesting to see how the next 4 years go, because I sense a change in the air????


February 11, 2009 5:29 PM  

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