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Demographics

The Geography of America’s Distressed Communities

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distressed communities map zip codes

Despite a recent slump in the markets, the U.S. economy is still putting up strong numbers. Unemployment is at its lowest point since the 1960s, and the U.S. manufacturing sector is thriving.

Looking beyond these big picture gains, many communities in the United States are struggling. Check cashing stores outnumber McDonald’s locations, the opioid epidemic rages on, and tens of millions are living in poverty around the country. It’s becoming more clear that the recovery from the financial crisis has been highly uneven.

The Data Behind Distress

To understand the disconnect between struggling counties and a high-flying national economy, researchers at the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) created the Distressed Communities Index:

 

To calculate the “health” of communities around the country, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) looked at everything from vacancy rates to median income ratios. When visualized, a picture emerges of an America divided into superstar regions and broad expanses of struggling communities.

Distressed and prosperous ZIP codes […] represent two almost diametrically opposed experiences of living in the United States.

– Distressed Communities Index Report (2018)

Community Quintiles

When communities are divided into quintiles, stark patterns emerge. In the most distressed zip codes, over 40% of “prime-age” adults are unemployed, one-in-five adults did not graduate high school, and the housing vacancy rate is nearly double the U.S. average.

DCI quintiles chart

As well, deaths related to substance abuse and mental illness are 64% higher in distressed communities.

Struggling States and Cities

The DCI data reveals that those living in the lower half of the United States are more likely to call a distressed community home. In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia, one-third or more of the population resides in the bottom quintile of zip codes.

distressed communities states map

On the flip side, in Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Utah well over 40% of the population live in prosperous zip codes.

Zooming in beyond the state-level, a geographical trend becomes clear: many of the struggling communities in the index are classified as rural. Between 2007 and 2016, nearly a third of all rural zip codes were considered “downwardly mobile”, compared to only 16% of those in urban areas.

Though rural zip codes tend to fare worse than their more urban counterparts, there are exceptions to that trend. One example is Bakersfield, California, where almost half of the city’s population lives in a distressed community.

DCI cities map

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Data Visualization

Assembling the World Country-by-Country, Based on Economy Size

How does the world map change if it gets assembled based on the size of economies, in ascending order of GDP or GDP per capita?

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If you had to sketch a world map, you’d probably start with a place that is familiar.

Perhaps you would begin by drawing your own continent, or maybe you’d focus on the specific borders of the country you live in. Then, you’d likely move to drawing the outlines of neighboring countries, eventually working your way to far and distant lands.

This would be a logical way for anyone to think about such a task, and it gives some insight as to how humans think about the world.

We start with what’s familiar, and build it out until it’s a complete picture.

Assembling the World by Economy Size

What if we assembled a world map in a completely different order?

Today’s two animations come to us from Engaging-Data, and they approach the world map from an alternate angle: assembling countries on the map in the order of their economic footprints.

GDP (Nominal)

The first map, shown below, uses nominal GDP to assemble countries in ascending order:

Country GDP

This version of the map shows the smallest economies first, with the larger economies at the end.

For this reason, the first economies appearing on the map tend to be developing nations, or nations with smaller geographical or demographic footprints.

For example, even though the Falkland Islands are wealthy on a per capita basis, the British Overseas Territory has fewer than 4,000 people, which gives it a minor footprint on a global stage.

GDP per Capita (Nominal)

Now, let’s take a look at the same map, constructed in order of GDP per capita:

Country GDP per Capita

This animation is more cohesive, given that it is not dependent on population size. Instead the order here is based on economic output (in nominal terms) of the average person in each country or jurisdiction.

In this case, developing nations appear first – and at the end, more developed regions (like Europe and North America) tend to fill out.

Note: All rankings here are in nominal terms, which use market rates to calculate comparable values in U.S. dollars, while omitting the cost of living as a factor. GDP rankings change significantly when using PPP rates.

Other Ways to Assemble the World

While assembling nations based on GDP provides an interesting way to look at the world, this same approach can be tried by applying other statistics as well.

We recommend checking out this page, which allows you to “assemble the world” based on measures like population density, life expectancy, or population.

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Demographics

Median Age of the Population in Every Country

How do countries around the world compare in terms of age? This compelling visualization shows the median age for every country in the world.

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The Median Age of the Population in Every Country

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

With a few notable exceptions, the world is rapidly aging.

Today’s infographic, which was shared by Bill Gates on Reddit, shows this incredible explosion in age and how different countries contrast with one another on this demographic metric.

While aging populations in Europe, North America, and Asia stand out on this type of visualization, it’s also important to look at the negative space. In both South America and Africa, populations are still quite young, with Africa getting younger and younger.

Note: The infographic is grouped based on U.N. regional classifications, and lumps Central America, the Caribbean, and South America as one demographic region.

The Oldest Countries

Which countries are the outliers in terms of global demographics?

Let’s start by taking a look at the oldest countries in terms of median age.

RankCountryMedian AgeRegion
#1Japan47 yearsAsia
#2 (t)Germany45 yearsEurope
#2 (t)Italy45 yearsEurope
#4 (t)Greece44 yearsEurope
#4 (t)Bulgaria44 yearsEurope
#4 (t)Portugal44 yearsEurope

Japan takes the cake for the oldest population and it’s joined by a host of European nations.

The following countries tied for the #7 spot, which is just off of the above list: Austria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Spain, and Bermuda. All of these places had median ages of 43 years, with Bermuda being the only non-European state of this group.

It’s worth noting that some smaller countries appear to be excluded from Gates’ infographic. As we showed on our last chart covering the subject of median age, which uses a different data set, the small city-state of Monaco (which has a population of just 39,000 people) actually has the highest median age in the world at 53.1 years.

The Youngest Countries

Now, let’s take a peek at the world’s youngest countries in terms of median age.

RankCountryMedian AgeRegion
#1 (t)Chad14 yearsAfrica
#1 (t)Niger14 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Afghanistan16 yearsMiddle East
#3 (t)Angola16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Burkina Faso16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Mali16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Somalia16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)South Sudan16 yearsAfrica
#3 (t)Uganda16 yearsAfrica

The youngest countries globally are Chad and Niger with a median population age of 14 years. Both are located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The only non-African country is war-torn Afghanistan, where the median age is 16 years.

A variety of countries tied with a median age of 17 years old, which puts them just off of the above list. Those countries include: Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Yemen, and Timor-Leste.

More Context on Aging

Want to get an even better idea of what the world looks like as it ages?

To get a sense of change over the coming decades, it’s worth taking a look at this animation that shows median age projections with a focus on Western countries all the way until the year 2060.

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