Measuring the wealth and income gap, step by step

Measuring the gap between the richest and poorest in your community is surprisingly easy, thanks to the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder.

Find the answers to these questions to see how this issue looks in your community:

+How does your community compare to the state and nation in its overall inequality of income?

+What percentage of the total income was earned by the top 20 percent? The top 5 percent?

+What percentage of your community is under the official poverty line? What percentage have incomes of more than $100,000?

For all three of the statistical measures described here, start from the American Fact Finder section of the US Census Bureau website:

From the home page, click on Advanced Search and then “Show Me All.”

In Advanced Search, you can search by a topic, Read more

Georgia income shares

This interactive graphic, produced for NearMedia by Chris Sullivan, lets you see the income share quintiles by county in Georgia.


A new “Inequality” book from OECD

The OECD has made available its book, “Income Inequality,” to read for free online or download as a pdf or epub


NewsInNumbers has posted this project page with access to various documents that will help you cover nonprofits.

If you’d like to be added as a collaborator on the project, contact me.

Poverty journalism conference this weekend

“The New American Poverty: Reporting the Recession’s Impact” brings together about 50 journalists from across the U.S. to share skills and techniques.

It’s invitation-only, but we will share what we learn together.

Follow the conference on Twitter via #PovJour2012.


Poverty journalism’s leading voices gather in Lexington, VA. for inaugural conference |

What I learned

When a reporter is diving into covering a topic as large and diverse as poverty, the beginning can look overwhelming. Statistics and numbers contradict each other, or are measured in different ways, or may or may not be relevant to the actual story at hand. My advice is to, before beginning any reporting or fact-gathering, sit down and decide what will be the “take away” message of the story?

I knew that Greene County, Georgia was a place of incredible wealth disparity, as evidenced by its Gini coefficient, but that in and of itself did not make for an interesting story. I needed to find a way to present the story through a very specific lens, which I decided would be community health care.

It is also to go in with a hypothesis, but to be ready to cast aside previous notions if they turn out to not be supported by data you gather and especially the people who are in the front lines of whatever you’re reporting on. I thought that the health care situation in Greene County would be dismal, but everyone I spoke to (even outside the story) talked about how great TenderCare is. So, as much as we journalists don’t like to admit it, there are “good” stories out there.  Good luck!

Health clinic bridges income divide

No one’s turned away in Greene County

By Kathleen Raven

Eight-year-old Lisa Brown sat with her grandmother in a doctor’s office near Union Point, Ga. Brown’s grandmother, who could not afford health insurance, leaned forward in her chair, eager to hear the doctor’s plan for treating her crippling back pain.

But the doctor just shrugged.

“If you cannot afford to buy a new bed mattress or medicine, then I cannot help you,” Brown remembers the doctor saying. Brown’s grandmother dropped her head and stared at her feet.

Though it happened three decades ago, Brown has never forgotten that moment–what she calls her “first memory of health care”–when her strong, powerful grandmother, who logged 10-hour days at the local sewing factory, was reduced to shame and embarrassment.

Before her grandmother died in 2005, Brown started and led a community health clinic in Greene County with this mantra at its core: No patient gets turned away. Offering basic care, minor surgery, obstetrics and dental care to anyone who walks through the doors, TenderCare is a rare entity – one that bridges the growing disparity between rich and poor. Seen as a model, it has succeeded so well that it’s expanding.

Read more

A path to shelter

Clarke County makes inroads on homelessness, while neighboring Hall meanders


Denese Humphries is afraid to look back at her life as an alcoholic.

After living under a bridge for a year in Gainesville, Ga., Humphries was finally able to walk away and pack her bags for Turning Point Hospital, a rehabilitation center in Moultrie.

“I’ve got to quit looking at the past and go on,” she said. “There’s hope to get out. I met many people who came to help under the bridge, some I can’t remember, and that’s awful. That’s really embarrassing.”

Humphries declined to talk much about her life before the bridge or what happened when she faced alcohol cravings, health problems or painful circumstances.

“I don’t want to go back that far,” she said. “Don’t you think we’re ashamed when we walk out under that bridge? I know I am. Then what do you do? You want a warm place, which is where I’ll be one day.”


Humphries, 49, was one of about 300 homeless people in Gainesville in 2011, local organizations estimate. In neighboring Athens-Clarke County, the homeless number grows to 500, making the two counties the highest in homeless population in Georgia’s northeastern corner.

Humphries is among the few to move on to the next step in her life. Read more

Michael Hudson: The business of poverty

Reporter Mike Hudson is not your typical poverty beat reporter. In his years of reporting in Virginia, the Wall Street Journal, and on an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, Hudson went beyond social services to look at the business of poverty.

Hudson investigated businesses who make their money by taking advantage of the poor, and loan officers who falsified applications from borrowers who wouldn’t have otherwise qualified. He was interviewed in Columbia Journalism Review about his approach to poverty coverage.


Often new regulations or tougher laws are treated as threats to profitability, as threats to business—as an attack on business rather than as an attempt to rein in bad practices and actually serve as guiding principle that can help businesses stay out of trouble and stay profitable in the long run and not blow up, as we’ve seen.

via Audit Interview: Michael Hudson : Columbia Journalism Review.

Mending the gap: How to localize the national problem

Photo by Lisa Schnellinger

When you look at the Data Profile for your community, what jumps out at you? What parts of it connect with what you see on local streets every day? How does this community profile jibe with the way political leaders describe the community?

Whether it’s the number of people without health insurance, the education levels, or differences in types of housing, a description of your community will suggest where the obvious disparities are between rich and poor. From there, you can look at the Gini Index and income-shares statistics through the lens of daily life for people on either side of the wealth and income gap. And you can bring those examples to political candidates, and ask how they view the gap – as a problem, or as an opportunity?

Here are the steps you might follow to develop those statistics into stories:

Step 1.

Gather the numbers. Choose a socioeconomic characteristic related to your beat or a timely interest, or review the Data Profile to look for the biggest gaps in your community. Compare those with state and national statistics.

Find the numbers for the Gini Index and the income shares in your community. How do these relate to the characteristic? For example, how does the percentage of uninsured compare to the percentage of people in the lowest quintile?

Step 2.

Look for a way to illustrate the gap in daily life. Often this might be in comparing services offered in private facilities to services available through government or nonprofit agencies.

For example – if you’re interested in health care, compare a public hospital or a nonprofit hospital that does indigent care with a private hospital. What is the difference in the level of care?

Or compare what is available for home weatherization

Read more