Places Of

Privilege & Poverty

Poverty is one of the world’s most challenging problems, but we do not have to travel the globe to encounter it. Explore how income inequality shapes divergent outcomes for individuals and families across Vermont’s counties and towns.

Poverty and economic inequality define and divide communities. While they are troubling on their own, the gaps they create across people and places exacerbate the other existential issues we confront. When residents of low income neighborhoods are more likely than the residents of adjacent high income neighborhoods to feel the effects of climate change and to face police violence, tackling poverty is “morally urgent”:

For America’s poor, the conditions of life are indecent and people live with something less than their full humanity, blunted from realizing their utmost potential. Poverty that is harsh, degrading, and indecent offends dignity. Unnecessary poverty, on the backs of the powerless and to the benefit of the powerful, is unjust. Research need not shrink from that honest judgment.

Matthew Desmond and Bruce Western

“Poverty in America: New Directions and Debates”

The COVID-19 pandemic only raises the stakes.

COVID-related school disruptions threaten to deepen educational inequalities between rich and poor students whether they are just starting elementary school or trying to complete higher education. And economic division appears related to worse conditions of the health crisis itself, as counties with higher income inequality also tend to have more cases of COVID per 100,000 residents

It is not possible to fully understand economic inequality without examining the multidimensional challenges associated with it. Throughout this site, we connect measures of poverty and inequality to other issues, such as racial and ethnic injustice, housing, education, food insecurity, and access to health care. Some of these topics are more salient in Vermont, where we focus much of our attention, than they are in other regions. Some are less salient in the towns and counties of this state than they are in other parts of the country or world.

Describing and identifying the distinctions of our places of privilege and poverty is the work of this project. As Scott Allard writes in Places in Need, “With a more accurate understanding of the geography of poverty, we could challenge the conventional discourse in ways that improve policy, action, and research.” We hope this site is one step towards such understanding.

Use the buttons below to examine poverty measures, explore profiles of local communities and organizations, and discover additional resources. 

What is the poverty rate in each of Vermont’s counties? Where are the biggest racial and ethnic economic inequalities? How many children live in deep poverty? Where does Vermont’s homeless population find shelter?

What economic and social inequalities exist across the 23 towns of Addison County? How does poverty relate to education, food insecurity, housing instability, and access to health care? How do local community partners address these challenges?

What other reports and articles describe inequality in Addison County and Vermont?

About This Project

The Places of Privilege & Poverty Project is directed by Matt Lawrence, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College. It was developed as a guide for students, staff, and faculty in Middlebury’s Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster as well as local community partners. The resources here may also assist classes engaged in community-based projects, data analysis, and digital methods. 

The site was created during the summer of 2020 with the help of Andrés Oyaga, Middlebury Class of 2023. Andrés collected insights from Privilege & Poverty interns, reached out to staff at local organizations, and curated the additional resources. Andrés and Professor Lawrence created most of the figures, maps, and tables in Datawrapper.

The data come from the American Community Survey‘s 2018 1-year estimates (for the United States and individual states) or 5-year estimates (for Vermont counties and towns) and were accessed by Professor Lawrence in R using the tidycensus package. As of summer 2020, the 2018 American Community Survey was the most recent release. Official measures of poverty and inequality often come from other sources such as the Current Population Survey (which tends to have more precise income estimates and produces lower estimates of national poverty rates). We use the American Community Survey because it is preferable for estimating geographic variation, especially in rural areas with smaller populations such as many of the counties and towns in Vermont. That said, even in the American Community Survey some of the areas we examine have considerable uncertainty around the estimates we describe. More details about the numbers we use, including margins of error, are available here.

We thank Middlebury’s Center for Community Engagement and all the students, colleagues, and community partners who provided assistance and contributed to the narratives and analyses that make up this site.