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Inquirer finds higher unemployment in affluent areas

March 16, 2010

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Business writer Jane M. Von Bergen of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes about unemployment among those in the area’s wealthier ZIP codes. The story started with counts of continuing-unemployment claims in July 2007 and July 2009 by ZIP code in the Philadelphia area, gathered from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey departments of labor.

Map data first to see if you can spot a geographic trend.

Jane says the story started as a look at unemployment in a different area, but changed direction once graphics editor John Duchneskie mapped the data using ArcView software. For a step-by-step look at how he did that, view this PDF.

“My original plan had been to do a story using Route 202, which is one of the main highways, as kind of story clothesline and write five stories about different communities and responses to unemployment along the corridor,” she says. “But when he mapped the data, we saw that the percentage increases, not the numbers themselves, were high along the Main Line.”

The Main Line — the silk-stocking area that is the setting for the movie, “The Philadelphia Story” — takes its name from the now-regional rail line that runs through it. She used that line as a structure — or clothesline — for the story.

“Getting one very localized data set and then slicing and dicing it all different ways is the way to go,” Jane says. “Once you have the data, you just go out and get the story.”

Once she knew her geographic focus, she went looking for real people to tell the story and found them in a church support group for the unemployed:

“Closeted in a second-floor conference room are former bankers, executives, marketing managers, top sales representatives, and international investment directors — people with Main Line addresses and occupations but no jobs, casualties of a recession that respects neither address nor privilege.”


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