It can be hard to fathom exactly how geographically expansive the U.S. is, and even harder to remember that a giant portion of that continental expanse is nearly devoid of people.
Slate‘s Ben Blatt has a new interactive infographic that highlights just how unevenly distributed populations are around the country: How many flyover states does it take to equal one superdense metro area like New York City or L.A.?
The entirety of Idaho, Wyoming Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and half of Minnesota are home to approximately the same number of residents as New York City. Los Angeles County has about the same number of residents as almost the whole state of Michigan. Meanwhile, the dense state of New Jersey packs 8.79 million people into 8,723 square miles. Just 8.66 million live in the entire state of Alaska plus the northwestern portion of Washington (including Seattle).
Blatt isn’t the first to visualize the disparate distribution of where Americans live. Other efforts include mapping a dot for every person in the U.S. and Canada and manipulating the size of metro areas according to population. However, the simplicity of the county-by-county interactive comparison makes Blatt’s visualization particularly effective, even compared to a similar, static graphic he created last week.
Think of the political discourse that pits city folk and coastal dwellers against the rural residents of middle America. It can be hard to wrap your mind around exactly how many people live in these places. Blatt makes it clear. When it comes to sheer numbers, the flyover states really are just a blip on the radar compared to major population centers like geographically tiny New Jersey.
Play with the map yourself here.