Every month when the BLS releases the employment report, I dig into the data and tweet about it at length using the hashtag #BLSFriday. (Follow me on Twitter to catch this incredibly exciting data dive. The next one is on June 1st.)
If you’ve been following the job numbers closely, you’ll know that this recession we’ve seen a particularly sharp drop in labor force participation. Labor force participation measures how many people either have a job or are looking for a job as a percentage of the population. As of March 2012 labor force participation has dropped to 63.6%, the lowest point since December 1981.
Because the unemployment rate doesn’t measure people who aren’t in the Labor Force, many (especially conservatives) have noted that the unemployment rate is “artificially” low and that many have left the labor force, basically giving up even looking for a job.
One Twitter friend, @rizzuhjj, pointed out that the Chicago Fed has a paper that claims that half of the post-1999 decline in the labor force is due to long-term demographic trends, specifically, Baby Boomers aging.
Here is a chart of the labor force participation rate since it the last time it was this low. You can see that we’re at the point where Boomers are starting to retire, so surely that would be driving the massive drop in labor force participation and not due to the recession, right?
To test this, I decided to sift through the employment data by age, as provided by the BLS. In January 2008, the participation rate by age looked like this (click to enlarge).
(The outline is a rough approximation of where Baby Boomers land in the data. Which is OK because the Baby Boomers are an approximate age group anyway.)
You can see that the boomers are largely entering the age ranges where participation in the labor force drops off significantly. So, on the surface, this explanation makes sense.
This was my test: Take the participation rates for post-Baby Boomers (16-49 year old) and multiply them for the corresponding populations for those ages. That way we’ve isolated just the post-Baby Boomer labor force and can see if it is smaller now than it was 3 years ago. This is what I found.
Or, to make it a little clearer, this is the change in labor force participation by age since January 2008.
Apply the January 2008 participation rates to current population and this means we are missing 3.4 million post-Baby Boom workers from the labor force. These post-Boomers account for 68% of the “missing” work force.
If labor force participation was dropping only due to Baby Boomer retirement, the rate should have dropped from 66.2% in January 2008 to 64.8% today. Instead, it is 63.6%. There is certainly a good deal of room for improvement to get younger people back into the labor force. We shouldn’t simply push the problem off to being Boomer retirement or we risk ignoring a whole generation that is unemployed and flying under the radar.
Yesterday I spoke at BlogConCLT on telling stories around data. I wanted to put the slide deck up, so attendees could go back and relive the dream. I have all the text for the presentation in the notes, so if you prefer, you can just imagine your favorite speaking giving this presentation instead of me.
I wanted to give an informal critique of this infographic. I honestly believe creating infographics is a form of art and that we need to give deep and careful consideration to all aspects of this art.
who is the target audience?
What they should want out of this infographic is to have the viewer see themselves in the family budget. They should be targeting a) people who are independents and b) people who might care about the federal budget.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the average family of four making under $25K a year doesn’t give a crap about the federal deficit. And complaining about it to them is probably not the best tactic to win their vote.
make the numbers mean something to the audience
On a quick look, the median income for a family of four in the US is about $67K. This is going to be a number people are a little more familiar with. People who do care about the deficit are going to look at the numbers in the infographic and feel a certain disconnect because the income is so far away from what they are familiar with.
When a typical man or woman supporting a family of four sees this infographic, they will start this train of thought:
“Well, if I had an income of $24,686, we’d have to move to another house. Gosh, where would we go? Probably rent somewhere, it would have to be under $700 a month. We’d have to sell a car and the kids… wow, we’d have to cancel most of their activities. Would I even be able to afford my iPhone? I’m under contract for another year, so I’d have to wait that out but I don’t think I can function properly without a smartphone…”
Can you see what they’re not thinking about?
THE FEDERAL BUDGET!
Instead, they should have realized that you want the audience to slip easily into the role of the family. To this end, recalculate all the numbers for a median family of 4. I’ve done it here:
Family income – $65,500
Family spending – $100,708
New Debt – $35,208
Total Debt – $434,081
Note: My first calculation was for $65,000, but I saw that this number brought the “spending” number to just to just under $100,000, which is an psychologically important hump. So I bumped the income up another $500 to hit that psychological mark. These kinds of details should be in the mind of every infographic creator.
These numbers are going to target an audience that cares about the topic at hand, and ultimately make more of the impact we want.
the graphic is not “share-sized”
What you see above is only 25% the size of the original. The original version of this thing is a half megabyte and comes in at 2112 x 3731 resolution. Holy cow.
Everyone knows the new iPad has a monster resolution, right? Here’s how this graphic would look at full resolution on a new retina-display iPad.
And on an iPad 2
A lot of viewing these days is done on mobile devices with screen sizes much smaller than an iPad 2. By having such a monster infographic, we’ve cut our potential viewing audience way down.
And they have no options for sharing it at a smaller size. There is a link to “download and print” it, but who is going to do that? Infographics are seen online. If you’re going to print them, fit them onto an 8 x 11 piece of paper. This infographic does neither.
I’m glad the Romney team has made infographics a part of their media platform. But they have a long way to go to create infographics that make the kind of impact that they potentially can make.
There has been so much talk recently about millionaires and billionaires not paying their “fair share” of taxes, I decided to look up exactly how much they end up paying. Tim Carney pointed me to this CBO paper on average effective tax rates for 2007 (published in 2010).
This is unfortunately the latest data I can find, but it is useful to me because it gives data that can be extrapolated. If I know the average pre-tax income, the average after-tax income and the number of people the top 5% and the top 1%, I can extract the top 1% from the top 5% and calculate that data for people in the top 1.1%-5%. This means I can update my Not All Money Is Created Equal chart.
(click to enlarge)
This is a chart of the effective tax rate, so it includes income, payroll, corporate, and excise taxes. It covers all practical sources of income (see the “technical information” at the bottom, since I’m guessing this will be the first objection raised).
I love this chart because I think it summarizes so many important things very easily. We can immediately get the scope of how much the top 1% makes, (it’s a lot) but also easily see that they pay more as a % of the tax burden than they make as a % of the national income. We can see that the US tax system is actually fairly progressive, with the top 20-10% paying the closest to a “fair share” (if by fair you mean every dollar made is taxed at an equal proportion to all income as a whole).
Warren Buffett is an anecdote, but one that has been repeated so often that many people think that the rich, as a whole, don’t pay very much in taxes. This chart shows that this is entirely untrue. When viewed through the lens of effective taxation (which is a very appropriate lens to use) the top 1% of income earners pay a much higher rate on their income than any other income group.
Technical information from the CBO on this data:
Comprehensive household income equals pretax cash income plus income from other sources. Pretax cash income is the sum of wages, salaries, self-employment income, rents, taxable and nontaxable interest, dividends, realized capital gains, cash transfer payments, and retirement benefits plus taxes paid by businesses (corporate income taxes and the employer’s share of Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment insurance payroll taxes) and employees’ contributions to 401(k) retirement plans. Other sources of income include all in-kind benefits (Medicare and Medicaid benefits, employer-paid health insurance premiums, food stamps, school lunches and breakfasts, housing assistance, and energy assistance).
Individual income taxes are allocated directly to households paying those taxes. Social insurance, or payroll, taxes are allocated to households paying those taxes directly or paying them indirectly through their employers. Corporate income taxes are allocated to households according to their share of capital income. Federal excise taxes are allocated to them according to their consumption of the taxed good or service.
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?
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.
I’ve decided to do the same thing with government finance data. This data is actually much easier to find, but getting all the relevent information into the same spreadsheet can be something of a chore. So I’ve went ahead and did it in a “once and for all” sort of way, combining separate data sets into one handy spreadsheet.
Before you go ahead and download this, please know that this information ins free because a) it didn’t cost me anything but also b) I think it is important that everyone is able to look through government finance data. That being said, it does take significant time and effort to grab the data, re-format it properly, and combine it in the most useful way. If you’re using this data in any kind of professional capacity or if you appreciate the work it takes to do this, please consider donating to my efforts.
Raw Monthly Data 1947 – Present
This data has not been changed in any way. It is a straight translation of the monthly official government data for:
Federal Revenue (Receipts), Federal Outlays (Spending), Federal Deficit
Public Debt, Intergovernmental Holdings, National Debt
Consumer Price Index
If there was no data for a given month, I do not interpolate it. This is exactly what you’ll find if you went to the sources yourself.
If you use these spreadsheets for research or visualization, please mention me and link back here. That’s just the polite thing to do.
This is going to be a bit of a wordy blog post, so I’ll summarize at the top: Utah delegate selection is Thursday, March 15th, 2012. The delegate selection process is the best way to get Dan Liljenquist, a candidate I am very excited about, elected to US Senate. If you’re in Utah, please consider making time to attend your caucus and either run for delegate or select a delegate for Dan. You can find your neighborhood caucus at the Utah GOP website
Because I live in Utah and because we have a candidate selection coming up and because that selection involves Orrin Hatch, I wanted to say something.
First of all, I don’t think Orrin Hatch has been a particularly bad Senator for the state of Utah. He’s been a fairly reliable vote for the right and, from what I hear, he’s a decent sort of guy. I have a “thing” against career politicians and, at 36 years, I think Senator Hatch meets that definition, but I’m not on a mission to take the guy down.
For me, the “Hatch election” has nothing to do with Orrin Hatch. It has everything to do with Dan Liljenquist.
I met Dan back in 2010, long before he decided to run for Senate. Holly Richardson, a Twitter friend, introduced us with a view toward taking some of Dan’s work and turning into visuals or videos that he could use for presentations. It was then that I learned about Dan’s incredible political career which, at that time, was hardly even 2 years long.
Dan was elected in 2008 and asked to be placed “where the money is”, so he got dumped into the “Retirement and Independent Entities Appropriations” committee, which was about as boring a place as possible. Except that “retirement” meant pensions and the Utah pension fund was (like nearly all pension funds) a heavily invested fund. Which means when the stock market collapsed in 2008-2009, so did our pension fund.
This wasn’t just “a problem”. This was a life changing, program ending, budget apocalypse type of problem. And Dan got to deal with it. Whee.
But what happened next was remarkable. Dan started with the concept “We will keep the promises we’ve already made to our retirees”. This is important to me because, although it seems like a lot of conservatives are fine with hanging people out to dry, people have lived their lives based on these promises. Maybe some retirees can manage, but for others, their pension is all they have. They’re not about to go start a new career to pick up some extra cash. Dan made it a priority to see that the promises made were kept.
Then, he did an exhaustive study of our pension system. He discovered that there were a number of loopholes including “double dipping” (where someone retires early, takes a 6 month break and can then be re-hired, usually at a similar salary) in our pension process and that the defined benefit program was simply unsustainable. His reforms (which were passed with bi-partisan support) saved the Utah state retirement system and most of our budget.
This was the work I was going to try to help visualize (before life got in the way, as it does) because the Utah plan had been so successful, Dan was being invited to mentor other states on how to save their pension systems.
It is this kind of fiscal reform that Dan is passionate about. When we spoke, it was like talking to my wonkiest friends about where the “real” problems are in federal finance, what kinds of reforms can actually be made and take hold without hanging those who genuinely need the program out to dry. Dan has a passion for fiscal reform and sustainability. In that way, I believe Dan Liljenquist could be a Paul Ryan for the US Senate.
This is why I support Dan Liljenquist over Orrin Hatch. I hate that politics makes us bash one to elect the other (and I haven’t been very happy with the Hatch campaign’s attacks on Dan), but there it is.
The easiest way to elect Dan Liljenquist is through the delegate selection process. Utah has neighborhood caucuses on Thursday, March 15th (you can find where yours will be held here). There, caucus attendees will select delegates for the state convention. At the convention, these delegates will vote to select primary nominees. Dan needs delegates to vote for him in order to run for Senate. If you live in Utah, please attend the caucus to vote for (or be) a Dan Liljenquist delegate.
UPDATE: Nate Silver pointed me to the BLS extrapolation of their population adjustment data (Table C at the bottom of this release). Long story short: the 1.2 million change in “Not in the Labor Force” is due entirely to the population adjustment and is not (as I assumed when writing this post) a straight across-the-board proportional increase. From December-January, we actually saw a “Not in the Labor Force” decrease which would mean people returning to the workforce. This is awesome. I’ll leave this post here as a testament to my own ignorance.
BLS data came out today and, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that’s kind of “my thing”. I tried to explain this in tweet form, but it requires a bigger canvas.
There was some noise made today that we say “1.2 million people drop out of the workforce”. Zero Hedge and Iowahawk, both of whom are usually really good with numbers, made this claim.
And I want to explain why that isn’t so.
First, let’s look at where that number comes from. In the BLS Employment tables, there is a stat called “Not In The Work Force”. That number rose from 86.7 million in December 2011 to 87.9 million in January 2012, a rise of 1.2 million in one month.
Usually, when I talk about “people dropping out of the labor force”, I’m talking about the actual stat “Civilian Labor Force Level” decreasing as a raw number. This isn’t what happened. In fact, the Labor Force jumped half a million between December and January (the third biggest jump since the recession began).
So… the labor force rose dramatically, but “not in the labor force” also rose dramatically. Why is that?
The answer lies in the population. Normally population increases are a super-boring statistic in the job report. They always go up about the same amount, 150K-200K per month. However, the BLS does an annual adjustment every January. The last two adjustments have been downward, but this January, the adjustment was a huge upward one.
That’s a population adjustment of 1.7 million people. That’s big. In fact, that’s second biggest population adjustment in BLS data ever.
So when the population is adjusted, everything else in the data set gets adjusted too. The Labor Force goes up, Employment goes up, and the Not in the Labor Force goes up.
Now, the concerning thing about this adjustment, and the only mote in an otherwise spotless jobs report, is the distribution of this adjustment. We have a labor force participation rate of 63.7% (which is very, very low). If we add a hundred people, ideally we’d like to see at least 64 of them added join the workforce (to keep that participation rate up). We want to see the labor force grow at least on the level of the population.
Instead, what we got was this:
The BLS added 1.6 million people to the population number but only 30% of those were added to the Labor Force. That’s upside down from what we should expect in a normal adjustment.
Now… what does this mean?
Here is my theory based on how I understand the stats work.
At the end of 2011, the BLS re-calculates their population numbers and says “Whoa… we’ve way undercounted the population, so let’s adjust that number.” They adjust that number up and all the other numbers with it go up too. So what happened was that the “Not in the labor force” count did go up, but the population adjustment amplified the increase. And the Labor Force probably went down, but the population adjustment made it look like it’s going up.
I did some rough calculations (adjusting the December population upwards so that it more closely matches the January population) and, if we smooth the population adjustment, the jobs report looks less rosy. It looks like we lost another 450K from the labor force, which accounts for nearly all of the drop in unemployment.
The complicated nature of these numbers means that this observation won’t get very much traction (and, honestly, I’m not 100% convinced I’ve accounted for everything so maybe it shouldn’t) but it fits into the overall observation that employment increases are just not keeping up with population increases. I wouldn’t say this is alarming, but it is concerning.