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A Few Miles May Mean Decades of Life

Everyone in American (outside of the Fox News bubble) knows that being born in certain demographic and geographic conditions can either be an enormous advantage or disadvantage in life, but the statistic and reason often obscure understanding, but I don’t believe people truly understand just how much where we’re born matters.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published a series of maps illustrating how the neighborhoods we’re born in impact our life expectancy. One map, showing the city of New Orleans, shows that a few miles can mean the difference of 25 years in life expectancy:


Another fascinating look at this subject used subway stops to illustrate the same argument about income.

Too often when we think of poverty in this country, we think of it as an abstraction or even as nothing more than an inconvenience for those living in poverty. In his book Poverty and Power: The Problem of Structural Inequality, Edward Royce writes:

Not only have we failed to eradicate poverty, but the very idea of such an undertaking is barely contemplated in the mainstream public discourse. At best, poverty is considered a low-priority issue. The poor in the United States, so it is imagined, do not really have it so bad and their poverty, in any case, is due primarily to their own self-destructive behaviors.

A map like this helps convey the truth that poverty, especially as the gap between the rich and poor in this country grows, is not just something that decreases health and educational opportunity at every turn.

It is a matter of life and death.

I know it’s fashionable to condemn Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty these days, but we were once a nation committed to a perhaps idealistic struggle against the scourge of poverty, not one racing to make a buck while we alternate between condemning and ignoring those who’ve been left behind.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • That particular area on the map is also the area where people FRY everything. Everything in their diet is awful. It’s their tradition. They love their food, and are not really concerned about the consequences of poor diet. They enjoy their culinary lives to the fullest, and an early exit is a small price to pay for living large and fried! They are fat, happy people!

    And these folks are too. Great video, except that I don’t agree with the premise. There are many fine folks in Texas.

  • You forget about the master plan Don. The more poverty stricken you are the more likely you’ll vote Democrat.

    What was LBJ’s quotes?

    “I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” —Lyndon B. Johnson to two governors on Air Force One –

    “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.”—LBJ

    • I admire two things about LBJ more than anything else, despite his pronounced character and political flaws. One is that he got things done. We could use more of that on the Left.

      The second is that he overcame both historical legacy and his own personal experience with racism to work for Civil Rights and anti-poverty programs that helped African Americans. His amazing “American Promise” speech captures just that sentiment:

      Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
      And we shall overcome.
      As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.
      But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight.

      If only those on the the right could show one-tenth the introspection and personal growth shown by LBJ.

  • The thing is, Big Johansson, the more poverty stricken an individual is in America the more likely they vote Republican. Your statement is false.

    I had a professor in one of my Cartography classes at UM give a series of talks about mapping poverty and correlating them with other attributes. Specifically in Ghana. One of the things I took away is that it is incredibly difficult to glean cause and effect analysis from these sorts of thematic maps. So much goes into determining class breaks and categorization in the data that they are very easy to manipulate into showing whatever the map maker wants. It’s always good to exercise caution when viewing a thematic map. ( Red State/Blue State maps and even voter precinct maps are an excellent example)

    That said, the correlations are powerful. And I think it brings to light a philosophical question of how much we are willing to accept the influence of Determinism in evaluating individuals as well as groups of individuals. One reason the left and the right always seem to be talking past one another is that the far-right acts as if Contra-Causal free will exists, while “progressives” seem to recognize that policies must be based on an acknowledgment that some sort of Compatabilism exists. The degree to which Determinism plays into the “end product” of an individual almost has to be agreed upon BEFORE the discussion begins, for the discussion to be fruitful at all.

    • Gee Don, our states most concentrated Dem voter base resides within the boundaries of our reservations.

      Along with the most poverty.

      Anybody study that?

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