If you’ve ever been to a baseball, basketball, or football game, you’ve probably looked up at the skyboxes above and wondered what goes on in them. Unless you’re rich enough to afford one, you’ll probably never know what it’s like to watch a game from inside the luxurious enclosure of a skybox, and yet once you can afford a skybox, you will likely take for granted that there’s any other way to view a game.
There’s a skyboxification in America happening right now, in which the affluent are increasingly being segregated from the rest of the country. Need proof? To accompany a beautifully designed feature about the disparity between the incomes of most Americans when compared to those who live and work in Washington, D.C., the Washington Post has created an incredible tool visualizing America’s skyboxing by color-coding the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country.
Imagine ranking every ZIP code in the country according to where it ranks in both college education and median income. For example, I am writing this post from Somerville, Massachusetts, which has a median income of $66,627, and where 56% of all people are college graduates. In these factors, Somerville ranks in the 88th percentile compared with all U.S. ZIP codes, which isn’t bad. But there are far wealthier communities out there.
ZIP codes which score in the 95th percentile according to education and income are called Super ZIPs. Super ZIPs tend to exist where you would expect, largely clustered around big cities, especially in the New England and Tri-State area, as well as Southern California. The centers of these cities themselves do not tend to be Super ZIPs, curiously: New York’s 10001 ZIP code ranks only in the 86th percentile, while Hoboken, New Jersey right across the river ranks as a 97th percentile Super ZIP.
Yet as the Washington Post’s feature makes clear, the greatest conglomeration of Super ZIPs in the country falls right alongside Washington, D.C., These Super ZIPs all have a median family income of $120,000 or greater, and seven in 10 adults have college degrees. A full third of all ZIP codes around Washington, D.C., are considered Super ZIPs, according to the latest census data. It raises some serious about our country’s future. When the people who run our country grow up and live in another universe from the average American, how compassionate can we expect the laws and policies of our nation to be to the poor and unfortunate?
“We ought to worry about what this means for society when kids who are the most advantaged don’t grow up with much experience or understanding of how the other 95% live, particularly the bottom half,” said sociologist Sean Reardon, one of the experts interviewed by The Washington Post. “Will they be less empathetic? Do they understand what it’s like to grow up poor?”
Zooming out to examine the United States’s Super ZIPs from a satellite’s perspective, and seeing the skyboxes of wealth and privilege that burn like islands seen overhead from the ocean at night, one could make a compelling argument that one does not need to wait until the next generation grows up to see an America whose policies are defined by skyboxing: it’s the America we already live in.