Difficulties in Mapping Quality of Life

In the NYT article “Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S., the author’s terms "doing worse" vs. "doing better" (in the key to the map) and "hardest places to live" are not necessarily accurate. Author Alan Flippen chose a very specific set of criteria that were more indications of poverty than anything else. I would be interested to see an overlay of this data along with median income adjusted for cost of living in each county. If there is a difference between that map and this one, then the other criteria he chose would become more interesting and important – he starts to do this kind of analysis in his discussion of education vs. other factors, though I’m not sure his claim that “education hasn’t improved other aspects of their well-being” is one he can substantiate with this data alone.

Flippen alluded to this, but a clearer definition of what he meant by "hardest place to live" is needed. There could be many other factors that define a "hard place to live" for which national data could likely be found. For example crime rate, frequency of gun violence, access to clean drinking water, frequency of natural disasters, or prevalence of drug use, could all be factors that indicate places that are "harder to live in", not just places that are more financially impoverished.

In addition, the choice of "county" as the data set input, while consistent and a useful scale for looking at the country as a whole, does not necessarily describe where it is "hardest to live." For example, New York City has adjacent neighborhoods where one is extremely wealthy and healthy and the other is struggling to maintain basic quality of life (e.g. Upper East Side and East Harlem). The author somewhat acknowledges this when discussing Wayne County, but then should not make the claim that "this combination of problems is an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon." The only reason why no county containing an urban area is in the lowest ranking is because cities work at a much finer geographic scale. A more accurate comparison might be not by geography, but by a set number of people - changing geographic scale in urban areas to a neighborhood, for example, would get closer to the number of people encompassed in a rural county and would likely show that many people living in cities are just as poor and unhealthy as those in rural areas. Again, however, financial means and even health factors are not the only factors in determining quality of life; even a New Yorker who is just as poor and unhealthy as someone living in a rural area, still has access to resources that make for at least a better quality, if not an “easier” life. For example, even the poorest New Yorker can go to most museums for free on certain days, enjoy free movies and concerts in the summer, access a network of well-equipped public parks, and interact with and learn from an enormous diversity of people, none of which is available to even the richest inhabitant of a rural area.

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