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Social distancing is a luxury not everyone can afford. This stark visualization proves it

Reuters uses location data from smartphones to show a powerful correlation between income and social distancing.

Social distancing is a luxury not everyone can afford. This stark visualization proves it
[Source Image: arthobbit/iStock]

Social distancing is widely credited with slowing the spread of COVID-19. But not everyone has the luxury of working remotely; many people in blue-collar or service jobs still have to go to work outside of the home.

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Using location data from millions of American smartphones provided by Kochava Collective, Reuters has published a set of maps and charts that illustrate how travel habits have changed since local, state, and federal governments started to encourage social distancing. As FlowingData‘s Nathan Yau points out, one of the graphics, which compares income data and travel habits, shows how out of reach social distancing is for many low-income workers.

Explore the animated infographic series here. [Image: Reuters Graphics]

How to read the graphic: Less travel is blueish-green and purple, more travel  is yellow to reddish-orange. Lower income counties are on the left and higher income counties are on the right. The downward slope reveals an unmistakable link between higher-income counties and reduced travel—among the top earning counties, you see that virtually no one is traveling more, which suggests they are able to work from home and stay put. Lower-income counties, on the other hand, show much more variety in travel habits. Some people are traveling less, but many are traveling the same amount as, or even more than, usual.

It stands to reason that residents are continuing to travel because they have no choice. Social distancing simply isn’t a privilege every citizen can afford. Not going to work means losing a job, and losing a job means losing income. (In other cases, continuing to travel may suggest an act of defiance. Reuters reports that counties that voted for Trump in 2016—which tend to lean rural—have not been changing travel habits as drastically as urban, younger communities have.)

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, columnist Charles Blow writes that “The idea that this virus is an equal-opportunity killer must itself be killed.” Reuters‘s graphic shows at a glance just how right he is.

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