Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Horrifying Graphic with Useful Information

This is cringeworthy:it’s what happens when you give people better graphing tools than they know how to handle.*

But, it shows some cool data for macroeconomics. What you’re seeing here is GDP growth last year on a city by city basis. Green is better, red is worse. And, because a color wasn’t good enough, we have spikes to show positive growth (but nothing to show negative growth — go figure). Also, recall that GDP growth has to beat population growth for us to feel good about the world: that’s not just green, but more like green with the two palest shades dropped out: so, forget about the southwest. Also, keep in mind that this is just cities, so the white space means nothing.

So, what can we see here? Well, first off, growth is uneven. This is normal. Secondly, there are some places that are actually getting worse. This is also normal: even in the biggest booms, there’s usually a few places lagging behind. Otherwise, we’ve got lots of good, dark green spikes, across the country. There’s a big swatch running from Houston through Seattle that’s doing great. Florida is doing well too. The midwest also seems OK. But, there’s a big arc running from Iowa, down to the central Gulf coast, and back up through Boston that could be doing better.

* The problem(s) with a figure like this are pretty well known. First, don’t tilt the map: that emphasizes the south at the expense of the north. Second, don’t emphasize just half your story (with the spikes). Third, because of the tilt, the height of the spikes is no longer proportional to the actual changes. Fourth, because they tilted it, and used spikes, the bases of the spikes look fatter in the south, distorting perceptions. Lastly, lots of analysis will miss this point (so I’m not picking on this figure specifically anymore), but there isn’t a sense of anything being proportional to population here. Even in 2015, the northeast (taken as a whole) makes California’s population look minute … and there’s no sense of that at all here.


The day after I wrote the above post, The Wall Street Journal published a similar, and better, graphic. But, they must not want to share it, because it took a lot of internet time (at least 5 minutes) to figure out where they’d hidden away this image. And, of course, they’ve hidden the labels.

But you can still pick up the story. It’s showing the unemployment rate by county, with shades of gray being essentially full employment, and shades of blue being places that could still improve a bit.

I can’t even give you a decent link to this. What I can tell you is that it appeared with the title “Uneven Job Market”. But that’s not really an article, so it’s not clear to me that you’d find that title in Google a few months down the road. It appeared on page A8 of the January 4, 2016 edition.

Via Newmark’s Door.

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