Jeremy NeyJEREMY NEY MPA 2021, who completed a concurrent degree program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, brings a quantitative storytelling approach to social policy issues—particularly aspects of inequality. While at the Kennedy School, Ney conducted research for the Malcolm Wiener Center’s Data Visualization Lab. To help others see the interconnectedness of inequality, Ney also launched his own newsletter, called American Inequality. He currently works at Google in New York, but he continues to develop the newsletter, which has since grown into a robust, accessible data visualization project that can benefit policymakers, academics, nonprofits, and the public.


Q: Why use data visualization to explore and map inequality in America?

The focus on visualization was born out of an idea of allowing folks to understand what was happening in their own communities in a democratic fashion. These geospatial maps allow people to look at their own regions and understand their own communities. Inequality is messy and can be really challenging for people to talk about. Visualization allows folks to perceive what’s going on in the world. It is also about storytelling, creating a rich format for people to dive into.


Q: What have you learned through this process?

The biggest discovery for me is just how interconnected and interwoven social forces of inequality are. Often the research or political conversation is about income or the minimum wage. But I have realized through this work that inequality is so much more than income. It’s tied up in other social forces, such as health care, taxes, education, gender, race, and location. Trying to pull the lever on income only really misses out on all these other pieces—understanding how air pollution can be connected to internet access, to mental health, to educational outcomes, for example. This interconnectedness has become the central thesis of American Inequality. The other great discovery is that this work really deals with issues of life and death. The first piece published was about life expectancy. The United States is now experiencing the greatest divide in life expectancy across regions in the past 40 years. If you are born in certain parts of the Rockies or the Northeast, you will live to 87, on average, but if you are born in certain parts of the South or the Midwest, you will live to 67, on average. A 20-year difference. Talk about inequality.

Map of the US showing average age at death in different counties

Q: Who is American Inequality for?

Politicians, policymakers, academics, students, the generally curious—they all make up our reader base. And we have had interesting examples of the impact of our work in action. In Oregon, policymakers knew internet access was a problem but lacked precise data. They were able to use the data we had collected to create a program partnering with a nonprofit to set up internet hotspots in certain areas. I continue to talk with policymakers, politicians, and academics—including colleagues at the Kennedy School.


Q: What is next for the project?

We just launched a new data portal and analysis tool to make all the data open-source and easily available. We want folks to use it to direct resources or to support or highlight issues in certain communities. We would love to build a body of case studies. Data is a powerful tool to help us understand where to direct time, energy, and efforts—not only by location but by issue as well. We are trying to understand how this information is being used. And we are continuing to partner with other organizations. There is no shortage of inequality topics. We’re incredibly excited about the impact we’ve been able to have, but we know that work remains to be done. Individuals, the private sector, and the public sector will all have to work together to enact real change. Opportunity awaits.


Map: Jeremy Ney | Source: GHDX | Created with Datawrapper  | Portrait by Natalie Montaner

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