Minority Central

June 17, 2011
BY DANTE CHINNI AND PAUL FREEDMAN America’s battle to lose weight and eat healthy has many fronts. There is the battle to get Americans to make better choices at restaurants. There is the battle to get them to shop smarter. But for some people and some communities, the battle is about having access to healthy food. As we have noted in more in-depth reporting, some places may be swimming in Whole Foods Markets, but in others, places labeled food deserts, affordable nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables can be hard to come by. And these food deserts are spread across Patchwork Nation, but very unevenly. Some of our 12 county types are much better places to try and live a healthy lifestyle (the wealthy Monied Burbs) than others (African-American heavy Minority Central). The topic is likely to heat up in the weeks ahead. Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture unveiled its new “Food Plate,” the latest entry in the government...
May 18, 2011
The 2012 election cometh, and as of right now the Republican field of candidates seems unsettled at best. Before it has even formed, the herd has been thinned. Witness former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's step out of the election pool on Saturday or, to a somewhat less serious extent, Donald Trump's exit on Monday. And beyond the shrinking presidential cast there is the splintered nature of the party. Normally, 18 months before a presidential election, there is look and feel to the Republican pool -- a front-runner, a conservative choice, a libertarian alternative. But a Patchwork Nation analysis of a recent Pew Research Center poll shows just how complicated the terrain is for the GOP as the clock ticks down to primary season. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does well in five of our county types, including the swing-voting Monied Burbs. Huckabee, who just left the field, does well in four, including the aging Emptying Nests. And former Alaska Gov. Sarah...
April 29, 2011
Are the hopes for an economic recovery disappearing into our gas tanks? On Thursday the Commerce Department reported economic growth had slowed to an annual rate of 1.8 percent. It had been projected to be as high as 4 percent. There are many influences on that dip - from trade imbalances to reduced government spending - but it's hard to ignore the influence of gas prices. The numbers are dramatic. A Patchwork Nation analysis of data from GasBuddy, finds prices are up over a dollar-a-gallon compared to last year in some places - and, as is usually the case, pain has not been spread evenly. To be clear no one has been spared a hit at the pump, but some types of counties - like the sparsely populated Mormon Outposts in the Mountain West - have seen much smaller bumps than others. And as one might expect, the big city Industrial Metropolis counties, not only have the highest prices overall, sitting just shy of $4 a gallon, they also have seen the biggest increase. A gallon of...
April 13, 2011
Was it a temporary dip or a fundamental restructuring of the American economy? As the last recession dragged on and on, that was the larger question hanging over the country. And yet it remains unanswered. The debate will likely go on for months -- or even years -- as the recovery slowly works its way through the nation. But from where things stand this month, Patchwork Nation believes there is strong evidence that the latter is true. The latest county unemployment numbers from February, combined with some early findings from the Census, suggest something bigger is afoot and it is remaking the American economy. As we have noted in previous posts, the recession did not hit everywhere the same way and the same is true with the recovery. There are winners and losers among our 12 county types. Unemployment Is Down, But Not Uniformly It would be wrong to say the nation's wealthy suburban areas, places that fall into our Monied Burb county type, are "back."...
March 28, 2011
The federal government wants you to have access to a broadband connection. Badly. The Federal Communications Commission has held dozens of workshops and filed away more than 23,000 comments on its National Broadband Plan. "High-speed wireless service is the next train station, the next off-ramp," President Obama said in February. "It's how we'll spark new innovation, new investments and new jobs." That's an important set of goals for an economy that is still trying to climb out of the last recession, and most experts would argue an accurate one. It's one reason why more than $7 billion of the 2009 stimulus plan was dedicated to broadband expansion. If broadband is indeed key to all those elements, how close is the United States to achieving a goal of universal access to broadband? Well, in some of Patchwork Nation's 12 county types, availability seems to be very close to reality. In others, however, much work remains to be done,...
March 22, 2011
The short essay here appears on the New York Times Room For Debate webpage. It comes from Patchwork Nation Director Dante Chinni and was one of seven responses to the question: Why do Americans seem unperturbed about the growing gap between the rich and the poor? Please stop by the Times' page and read all the responses and feel free to add your comments there or here. Anger Is Growing A better question is: Why do Americans seem relatively unperturbed about growing wealth inequality, so far? The journalism project I lead, Patchwork Nation, uses demographic and economic data to break the nation’s 3,141 counties into 12 types of communities, from wealthy suburban areas to small-town service centers. We recently looked at median family incomes in 1980 and 2010 in those communities, and the findings were troubling. Seven of the 12 county types actually had a lower median family income in 2010 than they did 30 years before in inflation-adjusted dollars. Not only had they...
March 14, 2011
In the debate about income inequality in America, many stories miss an important point: rising disparities are not just about investment bankers versus autoworkers. They're about entire communities of "winners" and "losers."  As we have noted with Patchwork Nation, as the long-term economic shifts in the United States happen, communities continue to diverge and the idea of "an American economy" increasingly looks like an anachronism. To get a better understanding of the impact of the changing American economy at the community level, Patchwork Nation looked at median family income in 1980 and compared it to the same number from 2010 in our 12 county types. The results indicate just how seriously the last 30 years have affected different kinds of communities. The numbers, which appear in April's Atlantic Monthly, show that more than half of our county types, seven out of our 12, actually had a lower median family...
March 8, 2011
Living a healthy lifestyle is not easy in the U.S.; keeping fit can be tough in the land of supersizes and never-ending pasta bowls. But the health problems aren't the same everywhere, and in a paper released Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified an area they call "the diabetes belt" with high incidences of the disease. The belt paints a red blob across the Southern U.S. and could be interpreted as a regional problem. There is some truth to that, of course. But look at that same map through our 12 Patchwork Nation county types. You can see some of the smaller differences we have tracked and noted on this site. There are clearly strong ties between high diabetes rates and larger African-American populations -- a long-known problem -- but it's not that cut and dry. The problem isn't only about poor black communities in the South. There are also larger socio-economic and cultural issues at play. And when you consider pre-...
February 15, 2011
The annual arrival of the president's proposed federal budget is always more of a show than a real news event - a starting point for congressional additions and subtractions - but that is especially true this year with the new Republican House. With federal deficits mounting, the battle lines were quickly drawn on this year's proposal. Republicans immediately raised concerns that it doesn't recommend enough cuts, while some liberals argued that it went too far. President Obama says he knows that times are more austere, but the budget walks the fine line of asking Washington "to live within its means, while at the same time investing in our future." The White House tagline is "cut and invest." There is good reason for concern about rising federal budget deficits. Spending during the recession and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has pushed the national debt to more than $14 trillion. At some point - some say now - steep cuts will have to be made....
February 10, 2011
Long before last year's Census, it was clear that New Orleans was a changed city. A drive past the vacant homes in the Lower Ninth Ward five-plus years after Hurricane Katrina makes that clear. But the scope of the change is only becoming apparent now as the 2010 data begin to trickle out. The city has lost some 118,000 blacks and 24,000 whites since 2000, while the Hispanic population has increased by 3,200, according to Census data. The city has 29 percent fewer people than it did in 2000. The metro area has fewer young people, more Asians and more vacant homes. The question, through the eye of Patchwork Nation, is: do all those momentous changes fundamentally change the kind of place New Orleans is? That's not yet clear. Patchwork Nation is built around the analysis and clustering of thousands of data points to sort the nation's 3,141 counties into 12 types. (New Orleans' city boundaries are the same as those of Orleans Parish - Louisiana has parishes rather...