Your debt, your spending, and your vote

I recently came across two very interesting articles, accompanied by maps:

The analysis raises several interesting questions one wouldn’t normally consider. For example, concerning debt:

There really isn’t a clear pattern on the map: there are low-debt states sitting right next to high-debt states. The lowest debt-burdened people live in Washington, DC ($1,611), followed closely by Alaskans ($2,286). What could these places possibly have in common? The one exception can be found in the Deep South, where a cluster of blue and dark blue states all group together. Louisianans have the third lowest debt burden in the country, averaging only $6,140 per person. Other than that, personal debt levels swing wildly from state to state.

Here’s the key insight. A few different factors explain the wide-ranging differences. For example, people living in New York City probably don’t own a car, and many still rent an apartment. Compare that to Texas and Oklahoma, where most people own a home in the suburbs from which they commute to work in vehicle they also own. Simply, put, lifestyle choices go a long way in determining debt levels.

There’s more at the link.

And concerning expenditure:

There are a few obvious trends when you map the data for each state. First off, there’s a cluster of pink and red states grouped in the Northeast. The most expensive place on our map is Washington, DC ($56,843), followed by Massachusetts ($51,981). As a matter of fact, six of the top ten most expensive places are in the Northeast. It’s cliché that housing is expensive in New York, but there are a lot of other expensive states in the region too.

There’s also a collection [of] green states across the Deep South to the Southwest, stretching all the way from North Carolina ($33,779) to Nevada ($36,177) and even up to Oregon ($39,742). The cheapest place is Mississippi, where it costs only $30,200 to pay for life’s most common expenses.

. . .

Here’s another interesting trend. This map is a close approximation of the results for the 2016 election. East of the Mississippi River, every expensive state voted for Hillary Clinton, and every inexpensive state went for Donald Trump. The situation is a little convoluted out West, but it’s remarkable how the political divide mirrors an economic reality.

Again, more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

I found it interesting that American’s expenditure was a direct correlation with/indicator of voting patterns, but not their indebtedness.  Food for thought.



  1. A couple of things jump out at me, with regard to debt.
    First, the level of debt will depend on ability to borrow. Poor people will have low debt (in terms of raw dollars, not necessarily in relation to income), because they can't borrow much.
    Second, rich(-ish) people often have high mortgage debt but also substantial assets – it's entirely possible, for example, to have $2 million in mortgage debt and $5 million in securities, and this situation makes sense if the yield on the securities is higher than the interest on the mortgage (and factoring in capital-gains tax on any securities liquidated to pay off the loan).
    I suspect the debt map would make more sense if it looked at debt minus assets, or debt-to-income ratio.

  2. This would make more sense if it omitted mortgage debt (since a mortgage payment is a substitute for a rent payment).

    I find the California number odd — if California debt is so low it implies a relatively low rate of home ownership or a lot of those expensive homes were purchased years ago and the mortgage is paid off.

  3. Thomas – Given how Proposition 13 has distorted the housing market in CA, yes, quite a few homes were purchased many years ago and are being held by the owners. Note also that in large cities, especially Los Angeles, current zoning and planning requirements effectively prevent the construction of new homes except for the very rich.

    I also find the numbers… odd, in some states; as with any survey or study, the details will make or break it – and no details are given about sample size, response rate, questions asked, normalization used, if any, etc. Without that information, any general claims such as these state comparisons have to be taken with not just a grain of salt, but the entire shaker!

  4. Even factoring Prop 13 I find the Ca numbers baffling. My husband and I didn’t buy in until we had been married 10 years because it took that long for the market to drop enough for our income to catch up. My husband’s cousin is trying to buy now and you can’t buy into a shitty area for less than $400k. Most people I know have no savings for retirement.

  5. Major debt sources – college, car, home, hospitalization, business ownership. If you don't have these, you don't have debt measured in decakilo dollars. Renters don't have mortgage debts, even though they may pay more per month. People who can take a bus to work and have neighborhood grocery stores don't need cars and the loans associated with them.

  6. Places like the SF Bay Area in point – it's hard to qualify for a Million dollar mortgage, but a fair number of home sales to foreign investors are all cash.

    This is an area where the 1100 sf condo we used to own (in a dodgy neighborhood) is valued at $550000. We sold it for $92,000 in 1988. And it was overpriced then relative to most of the country.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *