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:
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?
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 through government programs with what high-end contractors offer.
Talk to administrators of services at both ends of the spectrum. Do the organizations that serve the wealthy offer any assistance to help the rest of the community?
Find people as they are experiencing the two systems. Contrast the quiet, well-decorated waiting room in the office of a private practice serving upscale clients with that of an emergency room.
If transportation is your issue, choose a low-income neighborhood and take a bus route that heads toward the business district. Interview passengers who are on their way to work, and find out how much time they spend getting to and from jobs, and how using public transportation affects their work. Then interview the boss of those workers and find out how he or she gets around. Or if you are looking at housing, spend time with a family who lives in a small apartment or a mobile home. How do noisy or unsafe conditions affect their ability to get to work, stay healthy, or go to school part-time?
Tie conditions to public policy. How does the factor you’re looking at affect upward mobility, a value universally endorsed by politicians? Could closing the gap in services help to close the income gap, and if so, how?
Ask political candidates to speak directly to the problems of people you’ve interviewed. Describe the obstacles for someone in the low-income quintile, and ask what they would do for this person to move them toward the middle.