Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

This will be the last posting for Data Surfer.

I'll be writing similar entries for The Bee's new investigations blog, The Public Eye. In addition to the data-centered items seen here, you'll find a variety of postings by Bee reporters that support the "watchdog" mission of the paper. The purpose of The Public Eye is to "break news, as well as to follow up on investigations with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news gathering process".

See you on the other blog.

If you're an international statistics junkie, have I got a source for you.

Today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development release a huge compendium of fresh data covering a wide range of topics, including population, econonics, education, environment, government, technology, and more. The OECD Factbook contains over 100 indicators that compare conditions in most of the world's nations. The 2010 edition is available free in three formats: as a web site, an online database or as an iPhone application. You can also order a print copy.

The stats in both the web site and database versions are easy to browse and manipulate. You drill down through a hierarchy of topics to specific tables. For example, in the "Population and Migration" section of the web version, there is an interesting table comparing the unemployment status of native-born and foreign-born workers in various countries. In general, immigrants have a tougher time finding work, but underlying factors (such as gender, age, education) vary from country to country. 

Despite an ailing economy, crime in the United States dropped between 2008 and 2009, according to preliminary figures released today by the FBI. Violent crime fell 5.5 percent and property crime decreased 4.9 percent. Murders declined by 7.2 percent and robbery dropped by 8.1 percent. This was the third year in a row that violent crime fell nationally, and the fourth year in a row that property crime declined.

This new report contains raw stats for cities over 100,000 population. Sacramento exceeded the national trend, showing a 10.6 percent decrease in violent crime and 6.6 percent drop in property crime. In Elk Grove, violent crime went down 7.9 percent; property crime 4.1 percent. In Roseville, violent crime went down 0.6 percent; property crime 5.6 percent. (The number of crimes in these two cities are relatively small, so percent changes have to taken with a grain of salt.)

Cooler temperatures this spring have delayed the inevitable bad air typical of Sacramento's warmer days. But soon we'll see the return of air pollution that affects everyone, but particularly those with certain respiratory ailments.

You can see how Sacramento's air quality compares to other metropolitan areas in the 2010 State of the Air report, recently published by the American Lung Association. The greater Sacramento region, according to the study, is among the most polluted areas in the country. It ranks fifth in ozone pollution and sixth in short-term (24-hour) particle pollution. (Los Angeles and Bakersfield are first, respectively.)

The full text of the report (available free online) contains county-level statistics on pollution levels and at-risk groups. Sacramento County (p. 53) gets a grade "F" for both the number of high ozone and high particle pollution days. The county is also home to a sizable population of people suffering from chronic health problems (diabetes, lung and cardio-vascular dieseases) that make them especially vunerable to airborne pollutants (p. 54).

You don't have to be a genealogy maven to appreciate the recent expansion of online information available through FamilySearch, the free research service provided by the Mormon Church. Some 300 million new records have been added to the web site. These will eventually be integrated into the existing database of a few hundred million indexed names. But for now you can access them through a new "beta" search engine.

This new resource is easy to search. Just type in the ancestor's name to call up indexed data derived from birth certificates, marriage licenses, census lists and other documents. You can also refine searches by birth, death or marriage year; place of birth, death or marriage; father's or mother's name. In some cases, a digital image of the actual document will accompany the indexing.

FamilySearch intends to index all of the 3.5 billion records currently preserved on microfilm in its Salt Lake City vault. The effort will take about ten years.

The Federal Communications Commission recently unveiled its national plan to expand to broadband access to the Internet. According to the FCC, it's not enough to bring the Net to underserved populations, it's important to raise their "digital literacy," so that they may better utilize the important, if not vital, information resources that are online. 

Part of digital literacy is knowing how to judge the accuracy, credibility and usefulness of web sites. With hundreds of thousands of sources on coutless topics, it's pretty daunting for the average person (and the professional) to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here's one bit of help: The American Library Association has been compiling an annual list of The Best Free Reference Web Sites, a really good bibliography of material that is authoritative, useful and interesting. The list covers a broad range of topics: science, health, media, the arts, law, government, education, etc. The 2010 listing has just been released. And there's also a combined index of previous annual lists going back to 1999.

As the we head toward California's June Primary, political types will try to guess who will be voting. Perhaps there are clues in the recently released Census report, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008: Population Characterisitics. Of course this was a presidential election with special historic significance. Still, there are some interesting stats on registration and voting broken out by such things as race, education, income, age, gender and the like.

In 2008, 63.6 percent of the voting age population voted. That's not much different than the participation in November 2004, but higher than in earlier presidential elections. (The national registration rate fell slightly from 2004 to 2008, 72.1 to 71.0 percent.) Breaking out the data, non-Hispanic Whites and African Americans showed the highest voting rates (66.1 and 64.7 percent). Women voted at a higher rate than men (72.8 to 69.1 percent). People aged 65-74 beat all other age groups (72.4 percent). Married adults voted more than the non-married categories (69.9 percent). Those with advanced college degrees vote at the highest rate of 82.7 percent.

Looked at geographically, we see California voting at almost the national rate (63.4 percent). Minnesota had the highest (75.0 percent) and Hawaii the lowest (51.0 percent).

Last week the Center for Investigative Reporting unveiled an ambitious interactive map linking stories, data and government documents that reveal how state and local agencies have spent (or misspent) U.S. Homeland Security money. Since 2001 the federal government has funneled billions of dollars to states in the form of preparedness grants. CIR has been reporting on the use of such funds in a series of articles and its blog Elevated Risk.

For each state, CIR's map directs you to financial data, official audits and a reporter's concise analysis of problems in the management and accounting of grant money. California, for example, links to a detailed spreadsheet listing specific projects by county and agency. Sacramento City and County have received more than $120 million for a variety of purchases, including radios, bomb vehicles, respirators and hazmat equipment. Also linked to the California page are two state and one federal auditor reports. And there's CIR reporter G.W. Schultz's summary of the most egregious misuse and mismanagement of funds in the state.

The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program has compiled and analyzed a large amount data on the bigger U.S. cities and their surrounding areas. The aim is to illuminate the essential demographic and social trends that are transforming the top 100 metro areas. The statistics cover changes in population, education, ethnicity, age, income, work and immigration. According to the authors, the country faces five "new realities" for the urban centers that are home to two-thirds of the nation's population. Briefly stated these are: growth and outward expansion; population diversification; population aging; uneven educational attainment; income polarization.

Finding specific information in the 172-page report is daunting, but fortunately the Brookings web site allows readers to visualize and browse the stats easily using an interactive map and database. With the national map, you can quickly flip from indicator to indicator and compare the metro areas with color-coded circles. You can also call up the entire dataset for a particular MSA, for example, "Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville," the 25th largest in the United States. These MSA figures are broken down by the region as a whole, by its principal city and by its suburbs.

Medicare could to be headed for an immediate crisis. According to a story aired today on National Public Radio, Congress has just a few days to stop a planned 21 percent cut in reimbursements to doctors who treat seniors and others covered by the massive program. Such a reduction could cause many physicians to stop accepting Medicare patients, says NPR.

As bad as things are now for the health system, they'll probably get worse as Baby Boomers age into retirement. Just how much will Medicare grow in California, currently home to the largest number of beneficiaries -- 4.5 million enrollees? A new report estimates that the state's elderly ppopulation (65+) will more than double by the year 2030. The RAND study, Medicare Facts and Figures Chartbook, is intended to provide health providers, policymakers and advocates with essential data on California's Medicare recipients. Major findings:

Medicare reimbursement for care delivered to California beneficiaries is higher than the national average -- about $600 more per beneficiary in 2006.

In 2004 and 2005, total annual medical payments per Medicare beneficiary in California averaged $11,326, of which $1,330 (11 percent) came out of the beneficiaries' own pockets.

A large percentage of Medicare beneficiaries suffer from multiple chronic illnesses. In 2005, 79 percent reported having two or more chronic conditions, and 37 percent reported four or more.

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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