Photo Essay

The Geography of Poverty

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"Marginalized" originally referred to what fell beyond maps of the Roman Empire, but today the word has a different meaning. To be on the edges of the known world today means that your air and water are likely polluted, your roads are in poor condition, your food and medical care are inferior. Poverty is a relative calculation, but it has concrete outcomes: life expectancy, health, education—all are shaped by money and place.

Today, over 45 million people qualify as poor in the U.S., the largest number seen in the 50 years for which poverty data have been published, earning less than $11,490 annual income for one person or $23,550 for a family of four. At the same time, the share of income going to the top one percent of the population has doubled, rising from nine percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2011. At the very top, the richest 0.1 percent's share of the national wealth has tripled.

Income inequality in the U.S. is now on par with Cameroon, Mexico, and China, and nowhere is the country's line between rich and poor as sharp as in California's Central Valley, the rural, agricultural area where I live. Here, in the heart of the richest state, conditions rival that of any third world nation, with residents suffering some of the country's highest unemployment and hunger rates. This project, combining images, geolocation, and poverty data, seeks to put these marginalized communities on the map, charting this unseen geography of poverty.

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