This is because, according to the IRS themselves, they have 65 million documents related to recent Tea Party targeting scandal. The difference between 13,000 and 65 million is wonderfully hilarious so I thought there should be a chart for it.
I’m going to try something that is a little dependent on me always being on top of things. So I can tell you right now it’s a terrible idea.
I’ve been working for some time to make BLS data a little more accessible to the average person (read: the average wonk) and this something of a high point on that project.
In summary: Every month on the first Friday of the month, the Bureau of Labor Statistic releases two tables of jobs data. The A Tables contain employment, unemployment, the unemployment rate and labor force numbers. This is where we get the unemployment rate from. The B Tables contain detailed payroll data and a breakdown of payrolls by industry and sub-industry. This is where we get the “XYZ new jobs” number from. Due to the level of detail in the BLS B Tables, there is a lot of insight to be drawn from which industries are rising or falling (including public sector vs private sector jobs).
I’ve created a system where I can quickly snag all the BLS data from the most recent jobs report and display it in a treemap visualization, making it easy to explore.
The size of the boxes are proportional to the number of jobs in that industry and are colored according to the growth in that industry over a given time period. You can adjust the time period to color the boxes according to growth over the last month, the last 12 months, since Obama took office and over the last 10 years.
If you have a slower machine or are looking at it on a mobile device, you might be disappointed. It is a somewhat large visual and it is optimized for traditional desktop interaction. However, I’m hopeful that I can keep on top of this and post this visual monthly as the BLS numbers are released.
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?”
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.
Back in 2009 I made a visualization about the deficits we were expecting under President Barack Obama. I called it the “National Debt Road Trip” and it was moderately popular.
Today, after nearly 3 years, I have updated it with a new video:
The video itself is just an overview of data that I’ve been toying around with for a month or so. I’ll do an in depth look at the data first and then answer some questions close observers might have about the data.
For the presidents where I had daily debt data (from 1993 – present), I used “inauguration-to-inauguration” debt numbers.
When I didn’t have those (for Ronald Reagan & George H W Bush) I used the yearly debt numbers including the fiscal year for which they were responsible. So for Reagan I used October 1981-October 1989 and for HW Bush I used October 1989 to Jan 20, 1993 (when daily data became available).
With all this information, I came up w/ the following data points (adjusted for inflation)
Ronald Reagan debt from $2.29 trillion to $4.82 trillion
$2.53 trillion increase over 8 years $316 billion / year
George H W Bush debt from $4.82 trillion to $6.54 trillion
$1.72 trillion increase over 4 years $430 billion / year
Bill Clinton debt
from $6.54 trillion to $7.38 trillion
$0.84 trillion increase over 8 years $105 billion / year
George W Bush debt
from $7.38 trillion to $11.17 trillion
$3.79 trillion increase over 8 years $474 billion / year
Barack Obama (measured) debt
from $11.17 trillion to $15.57 trillion (March 21)
$4.40 trillion increase over 3 years, 2 months $1,390 billion / year
Barack Obama (future projection) debt
from $15.57 trillion to $20.39 trillion
$4.7 trillion increase over 4 years, 10 months $995 billion / year
It was then a simple matter to apply the $5.8 billion-per-mile, 1 hour-per-year calculation to get what you see in the video.
What I Assume Will Be Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I ran your numbers and you’re wrong! Bush increased the debt by $4.9 trillion, not $3.8 trillion.
A: Did you adjust for inflation? (Hint: No, you did not.)
Q: Why are your numbers different here than they were in your original video?
A: Back in 2009, I was new to researching federal financial data. I used a different, less accurate method of inflation calculation for my first video. Additionally, the inflation data of the last 3 years ended up altering where George W. Bush “stopped” in debt accrual. Finally, I tried to be all fancy in my calculations last time, making estimations to calculate debt between fiscal years. I didn’t do that this time so, while the numbers are in the same ballpark as the first video, I believe them to be a more accurate representation.
Q: You said “during the first 38 months of his presidency” but you crossed out 39 months. Why?
A: Good eye. At that point in the video I was disregarding debt accrued from January 20, 2009 to March 21, 2012. That is almost exactly a 38 month period, but I crossed out two partial months (January 2009 and March 2012) for the sake of simplicity.
Q: Why use “inauguration-to-inauguration” data instead of “fiscal-year-to-fiscal-year”? In short, why did you assign President Obama the debt from 2009? That was a budget Bush signed, he should be blamed for the debt.
A: Normally, I would agree on this count. However, President Obama’s stimulus deeply complicates the matter. Federal spending for 2009 was drastically higher than the budget that was passed due to the Obama stimulus. Add to that the sizable tax credits from the stimulus and we see President Obama’s policies have significant effect on both the revenue and the spending side. I felt that doing calculations based on assumptions of what could have happened would be presumptuous and call the data into question. So instead I tried to use numbers that could be easily fact-checked.
Q: I have a chart here that *proves* George W. Bush is responsible for all this debt. Why do you hate the truth?
A: That’s less of a question and more of a pout, but here is my position: I’ve seen that chart and I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, yes, Bush implemented a lot of policies that racked up a lot of debt. On the other hand, Obama has been in office an awful long time to not be held accountable for the state of federal finances. That is why I separated out “before” and “after” into two different speeds.
I think it is a totally valid question to ask “Now that the economy has turned around why haven’t federal finances?” Is Barack Obama the only president in the history of ever to not be held responsible for anything that happened during his presidency? It seems rather insulting to President Obama to imply he is so ineffectual that, even after 3+ years in office, he is merely a figurehead doll swept along the current of a river he cannot control. (Worst. Metaphor. Ever.)
Q: Why didn’t you use debt as a % of GDP?
A: A couple reasons. The first is that doing so really complicates the metaphor I’m using. Secondly, it would actually put President Obama at a disadvantage because debt as a % of GDP spiked drastically in his first year since not only did the debt increase, but the GDP decreased increasing the number from the numerator and the denominator side of the ratio. Thirdly, while the president doesn’t have total control over the deficit, he has far more control over it than over GDP increases or decreases. Using “debt as a % of GDP” is a less direct measurement of presidential responsibility.
Q: What do you mean by “optimistic revenue estimates”?
A: According to President Obama’s own budget, he expects 2014 revenue to be 43% higher than 2011 revenue. The only time in modern fiscal history that this has happened was when inflation was in the double digits, so the increase in revenue wasn’t a real increase. He’s already way off target for his 2012 revenue estimates, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say these are “optimistic revenue estimates”.
In my video I wanted to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to say “Even though I think you’re being overly optimistic, we will use your numbers as an act of good faith.” The horrifying thing is that, even with President Obama’s extreme optimism on the revenue side of the equation, he still projects monster deficits long into the future.
The big point here is that President Obama has no plan to deal with deficits or debt. He’s kinda-sorta hoping that we’ll start making enough revenue to catch up to the spending increases, but he kinda-sorta knows that isn’t going to happen. Yet he has made no moves to reduce spending to match (or even come within screaming distance of) federal revenues.
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.
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 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.
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).
I’d like to apologize for something and then give a good reason for it.
The Sunlight Foundation is a fantastic organization that pushes for government transparency and every once in a while, they run a contest. This year, the contest is “Design for America“. It started in early March is meant to be a 10 week design contest with several categories for entries.
When the contest started, I didn’t think I had time to build the project I wanted to build because I had a major professional conference in April. But after the conference ended, I decided I might still have time to hack something together. And hack I did.
My project is called “Recovery Review” and is meant to be a way to crowd-source the task of checking the stimulus data.
Users can search through the stimulus data given a couple key variables and get a report of the stimulus projects that match their search. They can then expand the item to a full view (the “+” icon in the top right corner) and then flag the item if it has any inaccurate or questionable data. They can also add a link if there is a news article or blog post discussing that specific project.
So, please, be my test users if you have some time. Head over there and look through the data. If anything in the data seems inaccurate to you, flag it and add to our database of what items are accurate and what items are inaccurate.
And let me know here if you have any errors. I’m still working on refining parts of the project, but anything that breaks the project is going to be of the highest importance to me. Thanks!
You may or may not know that one of the more entertaining themes running around the media these days is that the almost entirely Democratic passage of the health care reform bill is pretty standard issue for major social legislation. After all, the theory goes, Republicans never really supported any major social legislation and this bill was about as bi-partisan as it could get under the circumstances.
I try so very hard to stay out of name calling on this blog. But hearing people repeat this line is like hearing people talk about that alien they saw. Or, rather, they know this one guy who saw one and he was totally trustworthy. OK, maybe they didn’t so much know that guy, but a guy they know knew that guy and could get you in contact with him if they hadn’t lost his number. Perhaps the aliens stole it off his phone.
Back to the point.
We live in a world of accessible information. Quite frankly, if you’re too lazy to go look up the damn facts your own damn self you should probably make it a practice of just keeping your mouth shut. So when I hear people saying that this kind of narrow, one-party passage of major social legislation is par for the course, I look it up for myself. Guess what I found? Hint: Those people don’t check Wikipedia.
The point I’m trying to make here is that this level of partisanship for such huge legislation is, based on my quick sampling, pretty rare. Look at the Iraq war, Social Security, No Child Left Behind, even the 1994 assault weapons ban saw pretty massive aisle crossing.
The funniest thing about health care reform is this: Not only was the the “yes” vote highly partisan, the “no” vote was actually somewhat bi-partisan. Nearly a fifth of the people who voted against health care reform were Democrats. So the “Republican” side of the issue managed to convince a number on the “Democrat” side, but the Democrats convinced exactly zero Republicans.
(Exception to the rule: Medicare Part D had a very close, party-line vote. But you still saw some Democrats crossing the line to vote with the Republicans.)
For those who had not heard, Jim Lehrer, in an interview with Senator Jon Kyl, stated that:
Republicans have opposed things like Social Security, Medicare, even civil rights legislation, but then, once they lost, they took some deep breaths and moved on, and then finally ended up embracing many of these major changes…
Thankfully, Senator Kyl took him to task over that statement, but what would posses a journalist to make such an inaccurate statement? I’m going to go ahead and chalk it up to Lehrer simply not having the facts and not bothering to find out about them. He assumed that Republicans opposed that legislation because… um… I guess because Republicans are poopy doo-doo head who poo in their pants. Or something.
I would love to educate Mr. Lehrer and help him educate his viewers. If you’d like to help me with this, you can download one of the images above or use a link to this post and send it to the complaints department at PBS NewsHour.
Here’s their e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please be polite. I’d rather not be represented by rude people.
Data gathered from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment numbers are averaged by quarter and charted from 2003 to the present. (2010 Q1 is just January, 2010) Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in January 2003. Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in January 2007.
It’s funny… I got my start in information visualization with an Ignite presentation on data visualization about a year ago. (For those who don’t know, Ignite is a get together of geeks and artists where people give a 5 minutes presentation on something they love with 20 slides where the slides auto-progress every 15 seconds.) About a month later, I posted my first political infoviz and that started the hoopla that led to this blog.
And I just found another fantastic Ignite presentation on “The Political Power of Data Visualization“. This one is done by Alex Lundry (Twitter: @alexlundry), who actually works in the field with Target Point Consulting. (I don’t work in the field… I’m just a hobbyist.) That means if you want Info Viz done for your company or think tank, you should go to him.
Alex makes the exceptionally important point that visual communication and thinking (especially with info graphics) is THE wave of the future for policy communication. Let me be as clear as possible about this:
If you talk, you lose. If you show, you win.
Period. Showing people something makes them feel like they discovered it. It is THE way to convince people.
Visual thinking. Infographics. Data visualizations. Make them. Use them.
By the way, here’s my original Ignite presentation for anyone interested (skip the first 20 seconds, it’s embarrassing).