Pure Data can be Dehumanizing

When I began reading Flippen's "Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?" I was interested--and not surprised--to see that my home state of Louisiana factored high on the list of "Hardest Places." My current family home is in Monroe, Ouachita Parish, LA, where my parents and grandparents have lived since my father moved from New Orleans in elementary school. Within the system set up by Flippen, Ouchita Parish ranks 2,238 of 3,135 and is shaded light orange, surrounded by a sea of darkest orange counties that encompass all of the towns a hair's breadth more rural than Monroe (pop: 50,000).

I don't doubt the data, but the data doesn't tell the whole story. Neighboring Ruston, LA (Lincoln Parish, #2130 of 3135) is home to a massive paper mill that pollutes the whole town with its pungent odor, affecting both poor and rich. This phenomenon, while common to Louisiana, would be inconceivable in suburban California. The data also doesn't mention the steep racial divide in quality of life in places like Monroe, where upper-class, educated white people overpay to live on a street that carries a high-status name, while black neighborhoods on the East side of town struggle with one of the highest rates of gun violence in the US.

The Data used in Flippen's article are good general benchmarks for the health and social vitality of a town--one would assume that lower incomes, higher unemployment, lower life expectancy, etc. would result in a generally "worse off" state in a region. However, to rank them somewhat coldly by weighing the averages of that data discounts both the lived experience of residents that experience negative/positive conditions extraneous to Flippen's 7 sets of data, and also marginalizes the populations already marginalized within their communities.

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