Archive for graphs

Romney, Obama, and Executive Job Records

This is one of the Goose/Gander Visualization Series.

Recently President Obama’s team has felt that attacking Romney’s jobs record in Massachusetts tests well in the sample group.

These attacks got me thinking about executive job records.  “Where” I asked myself  “would President Obama place in a ranking of US Presidents in terms of job creation?”

Job Gains By Presidential Tenure Medium

You can also download a larger version of the chart. I find it difficult to create visualizations that work well in both blog form and Facebook-sharing form. This was my attempt at a compromise.

Is this a fair comparison? Yes and no. Part of the Goose/Gander series is that I create a provocative visual and then explain in more details what is fair and isn’t fair about it.

This Isn’t Fair

President Obama hasn’t had a full term yet

This puts him at a distinct disadvantage to everyone else (except John F Kennedy) because he hasn’t had the same amount of time to grow jobs. However it also seems pretty obvious that he’s not going to get out of last place before January 2013. That would require 300K new jobs per month every month from now until then.

President Obama came into office in the middle of a recession

In fact, he came in the middle of a recession that was worse in terms of job loss than anything any other president in this chart had to deal with. Now, he did split those job losses about half-and-half with George W Bush, so it’s not as bad as it could have been for him.

Presidents only have a certain amount of control over job growth

Actually presidents (and executives in general) only have a certain amount of control over the economy, so this entire exercise is kind of tainted by that fact. But this is the part where we point out that Obama did start this by attacking Mitt Romney’s job record in a similar way.

This Is Fair

The data Is Unassailable

I’m using the Employment table from the BLS A Tables. This is not the one that most Obama proponents prefer to use. They prefer using the BLS B Tables because they give numbers that are kinder to Obama. But the B Tables undercount employment (they only count payrolls) and everyone knows this.

I counted January-January (or whenever the president left office) for each president. I did this not because it was particularly fair but because I wanted to match how Obama has assigned himself and Romney jobs responsibility. I’m following his lead to show that, if we take him at his word, he doesn’t stand up to his own standard.

If we’re going to play the presidential job visuals game…

… this is a totally fair visual to keep in mind. Depending on the metric, Obama talks about jobs in different ways. When talking raw numbers, he likes to talk about the “last 22 months” or however gets us to the low point in the recession. When talking about month-to-month change, he likes to talk about when he came into office which was the worst point of job loss in the recession, so everything else looks good in comparison.

Fairly or unfairly, Presidents and jobs are commonly linked. It’s only fair to give a proper representation of that information.

What Difference Does Obama’s “Buffett Rule” Make?

President Obama and Democrats have been talking up the Buffett Rule (a minimum 30% tax on people making over $1 million per year) for some time now. So what kind of difference does the Buffett Rule make?

I’ve seen revenue estimates between $30 billion and $40 billion over 10 years, but what kind of difference would that make in the scope of government finances?

Not too much.

How To Cherry Pick Data

In his post “Senate Republicans Block Targeted Jobs Relief for Teachers And First Responders“, Matthew Yglesias points out that “during the Obama years” private employment has rebounded while government employment has seen a “sharp contraction”.

Yglesias points to a couple of charts, but I’ve helpfully replicated his data set into a single chart, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

As you can see, using January 2009 as our point of reference, private jobs have rebounded from a drop of 3.79% in 2010 to a drop of 1.63% in August (my data is slightly out of date, but good enough for gov’t work… get it?!?). Local gov’t employment has fallen 3.6% in that same time frame. I also added federal gov’t employment (which has fallen 2.75% since January 2009) for the heck of it.

In the comments section, Peter Schaeffer complains that Yglesias is cherry picking the data and points out that gov’t employment saw +10% gains in the decade leading up to the crash and 3-4% losses from the peak while the private sector saw slightly less than 5% gains in that time period and slightly more than 5% losses from the peak.

I thought that Schaeffer had a good point, but needed some visuals to drive it home, so I thought I’d show Yglesias’ jobs data in Schaeffer’s context.

As you can see, Yglesias’ data starts at a really handy place for his argument, since it begins measuring job losses and growth at a time when we had already seen drastic private sector losses, but no public sector losses.

Of course, the funny aspect to this data is that one could use it to say that President Obama is reigning in the public sector that George W. Bush let grow out of control. I think the only reason no one is saying this is because everyone on President Obama’s side would consider that a bad thing and everyone who opposes President Obama would consider that a good thing. Neither side really wants to attribute this trend to President Obama. In fact, President Obama is working actively to reverse this trend.

Ah, the little ironies of life.

Note: In the spirit of “never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence”, I wouldn’t be surprised if Yglesias unwittingly cherry-picked the data. “The Obama years” is a perfectly rational place to start looking at data and, if that was the only data you looked at, it would support his conclusion. On the other hand, Yglesias has always had a better grasp of the data than this particular post suggests, so I suspect he kind-of-sort-of knew that this was a cherry picked sample set but was OK with using it because it bolstered his argument.

[FIXED] Three Charts To E-Mail Your Right Wing Brother-In-Law

Dear goodness, not again.

I had a nice healthy rant all written for this because people who use charts and data to lie piss me off and the self-righteous ones are the worst. But it detracted from this post, so if you want to, you can read it here. Not work that I’m proud of, but it’s fun to write every once in a while.

There is a piece called “The Three Charts to E-Mail Your Right Wing Brother-In-Law” that is making the rounds and impressing many people who don’t know too much about the underlying data. Which is almost everyone.

So lets dig into these charts and how we can fix them.

The first one is about Federal Spending and claims that “Bush Spending” saw an 88% increase while Obama spending has seen only a 7.2% increase.

Bush-Obama Spending Chart

The problems with this chart in no particular order:

Bush was not responsible for all of 2009 spending

These two charts assume that the entirety of the 2009 fiscal situation lies squarely on George W. Bush’s shoulders. I would like to posit that this is unfair. There was a bill that got passed (you may have heard of it) that goes by the popular name “the stimulus”. It started immediately spending vast sums of money starting in the fiscal year 2009. George W. Bush had nothing to do with this bill.

I did a little digging and found that the budget Bush proposed for 2009 was for $3.09 trillion while the amount spent during that fiscal year was $3.52 trillion. Now, this might not matter if these kinds of variations were common. But here is a graph of the difference between the proposed spending and the actual spending for the past 10 years. We’re going to play a game called “one of these things is not like the others”.

We can see that 2009 is a huge outlier… the difference between what was proposed and what was spent is 5 times more than any other year ( $429.1 billion).

Yep… that’s what happens when you propose vast amounts of immediate spending in the middle of a fiscal year. Given that Bush had to sign the budget he was given by a Democratic Congress, I think it’s charitable to say that he is “responsible” for what he proposed: the original $3.09 trillion.

Data is not adjusted for inflation

This is a minor quibble, but it matters because it’s a sign that the person who created the chart doesn’t care about accuracy. Ignoring inflation will always make spending increases look drastic because we’re compounding real increases with inflation increases. It also matters because, if we adjust for inflation and use Bush’s last spending proposal, he increased spending by 39% or about 5% a year.

The chart stops tracking data at a very convenient place

President Obama’s budget proposal basically has us maintaining a stable level of spending until 2014, when it starts increasing drastically. The author chose not to chart this data, even though it was right there in front of him. Why? I assume it’s because he’s a partisan hack, but I’m not altogether prepared to rule out that he is, in fact, just an idiot.

By including these spending targets, we get a much more “apples to apples” comparison where we’re comparing 8 years of “Bush spending” to 7 years of “Obama spending”.

If we take all these problems and put them together, we end up with another chart altogether.

Chart 2

The second chart says that Bush increased the deficit and Obama is decreasing it.

Bush-Obama Deficit Chart

First of all, the same “Bush is responsible for everything in FY2009″ thing above applies here too. In addition to that:

The stimulus was front-loaded with tax cuts

I know that right wingers will maintain till their dying breath that tax cuts don’t reduce revenue, they increase revenue. I’m not really in that camp and this is my blog, so I get to do things my way. So there.

According to CNN at the time, the stimulus was going to save the average household $1,179. Using the 2009 Census estimate of 112.6 million households, that comes out to $132.7 billion. If we add that to the $429 billion difference between Bush’s spending proposal and the spending reality and then subtract that from the final deficit, we get a deficit of $894.4 billion.

$132.7 billion in stimulus tax cuts
+ $429.1 billion in un-planned spending
- $1,415.7 billion actual deficit
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$836.2 billion of the 2009 deficit that is “Bush’s fault”

All of the reductions are in the future

Notice how the chart goes down in 2012 and 2013? Notice how neither of those years have happened? This is because President Obama’s 2012 budget has made some pretty incredible claims.

To look at these claims with our feet on the ground, let’s first look at a revenue chart.

This is a chart that shows the increase and decrease of federal revenue changes over a 12 month collection period. We can see that recessions mean revenues decrease by as much as 15% year-to-year and that in boom times they can increase by a little over 10% year-to-year. The biggest increase we’ve ever seen was 12% year-to-year increase (from the 2004 fiscal year to the 2005 fiscal year).

Now this is the same chart including the revenue increases that the Obama budget proposal assumes will happen.

Now that is some f***ing audacious hope right there.

The Obama budget assumes for the sake of future budget planning that we will blow 30 years of revenue data out of the water by clocking in a 21% revenue increase in 2012 and a 14% revenue increase in 2013. Then they assume things will “calm down” to a stable 7-8% annual increase, which is merely massive (as opposed to completely insane).

This is a particularly important point because the estimates that the Obama team made were not just optimistic. They assume we are on some kind of federal revenue breakthrough unheard in this generation.

The revenue assumptions in this budget proposal have sped right past optimism and into delusion.

For the sake of fixing this second chart, I am going to be incredibly generous and assume that we see 9% revenue growth over the next 4 years. This would be very good news for our deficit situation and is extremely unlikely. It is not, however, technically impossible, so we’ll give some benefit of the doubt there.

Fixing Chart 2

Accounting for these issues, assuming that we hit the spending targets we’re aiming for (a big if but one I’m willing to let it slide) here is the second chart updated.

Chart 3:

Bush-Obama-Jobs-Chart

Permutations of this chart have been around for some time. President Obama’s team first started using it in mid 2009 to promote the idea that the stimulus was working. It’s actually the most honest of the charts here, but there are still some problems with it.

Using Only Establishment Private Jobs Data

This makes things look a little better because we’ve been losing public sector jobs over the last year or two. I’m not saying “counting only private sector jobs is an invalid measurement”. What I am saying is that it is a red flag that the person may be cherry-picking data to get the best result.

As for using establishment data instead of household survey data, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it is good to note that the household survey counts about 10 million more jobs and  covers people who are employed but not on a payroll, so it will give a somewhat more complete picture of the employment situation. And, unsurprisingly, the data doesn’t look quite as good for Obama. It’s not particularly bad… it’s just “meh”.

It’s Bush’s Fault Only When It’s Bad

But the funniest thing about this chart? The author has spent the last 2 charts convincing us that EVERYTHING that happened in the 2009 fiscal year was Bush’s fault. In this chart, the tune has changed entirely because, if the author gave Bush credit to the end of the 2009 fiscal year, it would look like Bush saved the day. The most drastic reductions in job loss would then fall under the “Bush’s fault” umbrella.

And we can’t have that. When it comes to a choice between honest consistency and making George W. Bush look bad, the author didn’t even blink. So, in a move that is so dishonest is is actually funny, the chart author basically says, “All jobs saved are due to President Obama and his courageous stimulus, but I blame George W. Bush for all the stimulus spending and stimulus tax cuts that created those jobs.”

I created a alternate version of this chart that represents my complaints listed above, but I want to make note that, while I feel the previous “fixes” are a better representation of reality, this chart is not nearly as fair as those were. I personally prefer the BLS household data (which I used in this chart) over the payroll data (which the original chart author used), but I’m not comfortable giving Bush credit for stopping job losses 9 months after he left office. I’m representing it this way only because I want to give an indication of how the author would have done it if he or she maintained an internal consistency.

The Federal Deficit: A Spending AND Revenue Problem

The past couple days, I’ve been railing against the tax/benefits compromise on Twitter and getting a lot of push-back from the right side of the Twitter-verse. The argument goes something like this:

“The deficit is due to the fact that we’re spending too much, not because we’re not pulling in enough revenue. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

In response to this, I’d like to submit the following into evidence. It is a graph of the federal receipts and federal spending since 1980, taken from the monthly treasury report, which is as non-partisan a source as possible. The gap between the red line and the green line is the deficit.

Technical note: The data here is inflation adjusted by month and represents a rolling 12 month sum. So, for example, the point for October, 2010 (the latest data point) is a sum of the previous 12 months of receipts and outlays, all adjusted for inflation. This is necessary due to the fact that the treasury reports fluctuate drastically from month to month… especially in April, for obvious reasons.

So, what can we learn from this chart?

  1. our current deficit is driven by BOTH a dramatic increase in spending and a devastating decline in revenue.
  2. the Bush tax cuts are not wholly to blame for the deficit. If revenue had held steady at 2007 levels, we’d still be looking at record deficits based only on the spending increases.
  3. spending increases are not wholly to blame for the deficit. If spending had held steady at 2007 levels, we’d still be looking at record deficits.
  4. compared to revenue, spending is relatively stable, increasing more or less steadily year after year.

That last one indicated to me that the federal government has more control over spending then they have over revenue. Because of this (in my humble opinion) it does make more sense to try to cut spending than to raise taxes, since we have more control over the spending side.

However, we need to look at the situation practically. We can’t possibly cut enough out of the federal budget to balance it without additional revenue. Those kinds of budget cuts are not even remotely feasible politically. I’ve little interest in playing fantasy politics where we magically get rid of a fourth of the government without people lighting their Congressmen on fire.We have about enough revenue to balance a budget from 10 years ago.

The rebuttal, of course is that raising taxes will slow economic growth, which will drive revenue down anyway. I believe there is some merit to this, but does that mean we’re going to just tolerate insane deficits while we wait patiently for the economy to improve?

There is no way to have our cake and eat it too. Lower taxes is quickly becoming a luxury of a country whose financial situation is not dire. If we want to close the deficit, we need more revenue and less spending. Period. Full stop.

Current Recovery “Faster & Stronger” According to CNN Money’s Chris Isidor

A recent CNN Money piece was titled “7.9 Million Jobs Lost Forever” by senior writer Chris Isidore. First, let’s set aside the idea that anything is really “forever” or the idea the we have a totally inelastic work force that, being filled entirely with idiots, never adjusts to the economic realities that confront us. Let us unstead focus on his statement:

“Excluding temporary Census workers, the economy has added fewer than 100,000 jobs a month this year — a much faster and stronger jobs recovery than occurred following the last two recessions in 2001 and 1991.”

Let’s go ahead and check that statement. Let’s take the job number at the end of the recession (as defined by this Wikipedia piece on recessions) and see how each recession did with jobs from the end of the recession onward, which we’ll define as “the jobs recovery”. The below chart shows the number of jobs in the months following the end of each recession.

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As you can see, following the end of the recession, this “recovery” is vastly worse on the jobs recovery than previous recoveries. Now, it could be that what Mr. Chris Isidore meant to say is that “in the last 6 months, we’ve seen jobs growth much faster than the last two recessions”. That is the same as saying “See the growth between the two red arrows?”

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“It’s awesome. I would like you to infer that, based on this very limited view of jobs growth, President Obama is doing awesome on the jobs front.”

First of all, that kind of statement is why people think that reporters (even reporters who work for CNN Money) can’t do simple addition. Either Mr. Isidore is an idiot or he is deliberately mis-reporting the data.

Speaking of which, why would Mr. Isidore only use the last two recessions as an example? Let’s look at the last three recessions instead of the last two.

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As you can see, in a similar time frame, the improvement in jobs in the early 1980’s recession was heads and shoulders above any of the other recessions. In fact, in a comparable period, the early 1980’s jobs recovery was at a rate 4 times faster than this current one. And yet Mr. Isidore cherry picks a specific section of time within a specific set of recessions in order to make the claim that the jobs growth we’ve seen is “faster and stronger.”

Long Slow Recovery vs. Double Dip Recession

Interesting NYT Economix piece from Casey Mulligan on if we’re seeing long slow recovery out of the 08-09 recession or the beginning of a double dip recession. One thing he does is predict that national employment and work hours will be “a couple of percentage points higher at the end of 2010 than they are now.”

I think he’s kind of crazy, but I wanted to put it on the record so that we can look back at it at the end of the year.

First of all, the guidelines: Mulligan says that national employment will be “a couple of percentage points” higher. I’m going to assume that this means employment-population ratio as defined by the BLS which, as of this writing, is 58.7%. It is up .5% from its nadir at 58.2% last December. Let’s say that “a couple percentage points” means an increase of 1.0% in the employment-population ratio. This gives him quite the benefit of the doubt, I think.

Based on my very rough calculations, that would mean we’re looking at an increase of about 3.06 million jobs in the next couple of months, averaging 437,000 job increase per month. Keep in mind, this still puts us way below the height of the employment-population ratio of 64.7% in 2000 and nearly a full percentage below the employment ratio in place a year and a half ago.

No. Freaking. Way. Not happening. Honestly, I would be surprised if we saw another .5% increase (which is what we’ve seen in the last 6 months). I’ll stake my claim there, even though I have a feeling that we might not even make that number… I see this recovery being even flatter than that.

In any case, here’s a view of the predictions. We’ll revisit in a half a year. Or possibly in October or November when if it looks like one of us is on track.

Employment-Population Ratio 2006 – Present

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What Happens to Unemployment Tomorrow?

Just thought I’d post this. I’ve always been a little fascinated by the number of people needed to pull off something as huge as a the census. And next month we should see the peak of the census employment burst. Observe:

This was done in about 20 minutes, so it might need some explanation.

Basically, I start with with the June before the census and mark that number (somewhat arbitrarily) as my base federal employment point. Then I checked the employment numbers moving forward from that point as a percentage of that number.

As you can see, if this census year follows the path of the last census year (which it seems to be doing so far) the May employment number coming out tomorrow should add around 300-350 thousand jobs due to the census alone.

How big is a 300-350 thousand job increase? Well, the increase in employment as a whole between March and April was about 250 thousand. So, if the recovery continues as it has been, we should see an increase of something along the lines of 500-600 thousand jobs tomorrow.

Take note, I’m doing really simple guesswork here. I’m pretty sure that geoff over at Innocent Bystanders will have more intelligent things to say on the matter tomorrow.

Government Spending Visualization Misses The Mark

UPDATE: Wes at Pitch Interactive has left some comments with additional information on the data and visualization. I don’t agree with his opinion on the issue of contract spending (Does the federal government spend a disproportionate amount of defense? I don’t think the data supports that, but it depends on what your opinion of  “proportionate” and “appropriate” is.) , but you should definitely read his comments for a more complete understanding. He’s an excellent example of the government data transparency that we both endorse.

In the recent Design For America competition, a tie for first place was this very attractive visualization of Federal Spending.

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When the image won the contest, it was listed as a visualization of all federal spending. After a back and forth, the author at Pitch Interactive changed the title to “Federal Contract Spending” and has stated that he will revisit the visualization so that it shows all federal spending as it is reported at USSpending.gov. Pitch Interactive has gotten beaten up a great deal over this visualization and they have been nothing but gracious throughout. So I just want to take a moment to say that I think their work is remarkable and that the problems with this graph are a series of very honest mistakes.

But one of the things my blog does is point out mistakes to increase understanding.

My biggest problem with the image is that it still perpetuates the stereotype that the federal government spends most of its money on defense. This image in particular drives that point home by ranking the spending areas according to their “media coverage” ranking where we can see the extent of media coverage each department saw (based on the New York Times API). “Defense” reporting is clearly out of proportion to Defense spending.

The first problem has been addressed elsewhere… it’s the issue of scaling the radius instead of the area of the circles. If the numbers were a correct representation of federal spending (more on that later), the circle visualization commits this “radius is not equal to area” visual error that really bugs me. I even gave it a couple pages in my book chapter (now available online for the low, low price of free) and mentioned it in my Microsoft talk on visualization because it is such a common mistake.

The other problem lies in the fact that, rather than being a visualization of federal spending, it is a visualization of federal contracts. If we use the graph below as a visual of government spending (taken from usaspending.gov) the graph above tracks only the dark green parts of the spending line.

image

As you can see, this kind of visualization gives a very false impression of spending because Department of Defense spending is run almost exclusively off of contracts while Health and Human Services (which actually spent MORE money than the DoD due to the fact that it distributes Medicare and Medicaid) looks like a tiny fraction. The most expensive department, the Social Security Administration, doesn’t even show up in the visualization due to the fact that the money is all direct payments.

The reason this bothers me as much as it does is because the point of a visualization is to clarify and inform. One of the biggest pieces of MIS-information surrounding the federal budget is the idea that Department of Defense spending accounts for the majority of all spending. The reality is that Defense spending is about 17% of all federal spending (42%, if you only count discretionary spending and completely ignore Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the national debt).

The original visual does the opposite of clarify and inform… it reinforces the misconception. The area that represents Defense spending is no less than 84% of total visual area! This isn’t just inaccurate, it’s exceedingly, painfully inaccurate. And, worst of all, it is inaccurate in a way that people will see it, allow it to reinforce their wrong perceptions and think that they know the truth.

But I’m a little bit shocked that the Sunlight Foundation didn’t catch these errors. It is clear to me that when Pitch Interactive gathered the data, they thought they were pulling ALL the federal spending and built the visualization off of that understanding. But Sunlight is supposed to be all about federal data. Anyone with even the most casual familiarity with the government spending data would immediately see that this visualization was in error.

Finally, it’s only fair that, after this criticism of this piece, I offer what I think is an accurate representation of the data. So I’ve re-built this visual with all the spending data and taking into account all the issues I’ve noted. Here is the fixed version of the graph (click for the large version).

SpendingVisualUpdate

Sunlight Foundation Design For America Winners

The Sunlight Foundation contest “Design for America” has announced their winners. To my disappointment, Recovery Review was not counted among the worthy, but you should check out the winners.

 

Congratulations to all of the winners!

 

Redesigning a Government Website WinnerIRS Re-Design

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How a Bill Becomes Law WinnerHow Our Laws Are Made

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Senate Rules Visualization WinnerGuide to US Senate Floor Procedures

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Health Data Visualization WinnerCounty Sin Rankings

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US Spending Visualization Winner (Tie)Spending vs. Media Coverage and Is Washington Bankrupting America

 

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Best Design of Sunlight Data Winner (Tie)Cool Kids at the White House and Who Paid Them

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Recovery.gov Visualization WinnerMaking a Full Recovery

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