Above & Below the Poverty Line

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Why We Love It

This map reveals the sobering fact that, in nearly every part of American cities, there are people living in poverty. We can see the ratio of households living above and below the poverty line. We also get a clear visualization of neighborhoods that struggle with poverty and the issues often tied to it. We love that this maps lets you click on each neighborhood for more details.

Why It Works

A map of ratios can be powerful. In the US overall, there are 6.2 households living above the poverty line for every household living below. This map uses green to indicate areas with a higher than normal ratio of households living above, compared to below, poverty. Orange areas show a higher than normal ratio of households living below the poverty line.

Important Steps

In ArcMap, add the Census ACS data at the tract level for the US. Shade the map by the count of households living above poverty level, divided by the count living below.

For the symbology, center the map around the average for the US (6.2) and use one standard deviation around that mean to set the break points for the orange and green colors. Use two standard deviations around the mean to set the darker orange and green colors.

Serve as a tiled map cache.



The Census Bureau provides an explicit count of households above and below the poverty line in its ACS offerings. Any two counts can be used in a similar map of ratios.


The ratio of one group to another helps tell a story about the national average compared to local conditions. It is equally valid to have the map center upon a state average, an historical average, or other value.


It will take one hour to create the map and two hours to publish it as a cached tile map service.



Use complementary colors for the diverging color ramp, centered around a neutral color that represents values close to the national average.

More Information

Map Author

Jim Herries

Jim Herries

@jherries | LinkedIn

Applied geographer, map curator for Living Atlas of the World and Urban Observatory. I work with talented people to make better maps by eliminating the noise and increasing the signal.

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