Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

More grim news on the economy front. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported preliminary figures showing a 3.8 percent drop in the Gross Domestic Product in the last quarter of 2008. That's bad, but certainly not terrible if you compare it to all the quarterly percent changes in GDP since 1947. 2008 Q4 ranks as the 12th worst quarter (tying with 1974 Q3). See table below.

Quarter GDP % Change
1958q1 -10.4
1980q2 -7.8
1982q1 -6.4
1953q4 -6.2
1949q1 -5.8
1960q4 -5.1
1981q4 -4.9
1975q1 -4.7
1957q4 -4.2
1970q4 -4.2
1949q4 -4.0
1974q3 -3.8
2008q4 -3.8

State Controller John Chiang announced on Jan. 16 that expected cash shortages in February will force a delay in issuing personal income tax refunds. This delay will hurt lower income families the most, according to statistics provided by the Franchise Tax Board to The Bee. Here's a spreadsheet ( Sac Bee PIT AGI Tax Year 2007.xls) detailing month-by-month refunds paid out in 2008 for tax year 2007. You can see that most refunds were issued in the first quarter to taxpayers making less than $50,000 (adjusted gross income).

The FTB web site has Annual Reports (going back to 1980) that are filled with data on the state's business and personal income tax collections. These volumes include information on individual refunds. The table below summarizes refund payments for the past seven tax years.

Tax Year Number of Refunds (millions) Total Amount (billions)
2007 10.1 $8.7
2006 10.2 $8.8
2005 9.2 $7.4
2004 9.1 $6.7
2003 9.0 $6.5
2002 8.8 $5.8
2001 9.1 $6.1

Today debuted a new crime feature  that provides current arrest logs for cities in the four-county region. You can browse a town's recent arrests displayed in reverse chronological order. Each record contains the arrestee's name, date, city of residence, charges and state code numbers, bail amount and police agency. This information comes from, an online company that collects crime data from cities and towns across the state. The Arrest Logs supplement Crimemapper, Sacbee's map-based database of reported crimes in the region.

To put these individual arrests in a larger context, you could consult the statistical tables and charts in Crime in California, the state attorney general's annual report that began publication in 1952. (The 1996-2006 editions are available free online.) Crime in California contains over 100 pages of data on "crimes, arrests, adult felony arrest dispositions, adult corrections, criminal justice expenditures and personnel, citizens' complaints against peace officers, and domestic violence." The arrest numbers are broken down by demographics, crime category (violent, property) and type (homicide, theft, arson, etc.). Between 1960 and 2006, total arrests per 100,000 population peaked in 1974 (with 8,984.1). The absolute number of arrests peaked in 1990 (with 1,979,355).

Blaming anemic enrollment, administrators announced today they will have to close Loretto High, an all-girl Catholic school in Sacramento. Loretto is the sixth largest private school in the region according to 2007-08 enrollment figures. (Jesuit High is the biggest.)

The California Department of Education compiles statistics on private institutions with six or more students. The Private School Directory is a set of nine spreadsheets covering years 1999 to 2007. Organized by county, the information ncludes address, phone, administrator's name, church-affiliation (if religious), number of full- and part-time teachers, total enrollment and enrollment for each grade.

The CDE also offers five reports on public schools (2002-2006) which aggregate state and county stats on the number of schools, student enrollment, graduates, staffing and religious affiliation. (In 2006-07 almost 58 percent of private students attended Roman Catholic schools.)

Race.JPGThe Bee launched its 2009 Tour of California page today. If you're a hard-core bike racing fan, the Internet is chock full of historical information about major tours and their winners. The CyclingRevealed web site, for example, offers a 100 year timeline (1900-1999) containing detailed information on significant races held every year. A results page gives the name of the race, distance and individual winner. Click on the race and you'll get additional details: average speed, the number of starters and finishers, as well as second and third place cyclists.

The official Tour de France site provides a complete list of winners, 1903-2008. In addition there's a page of interesting historical statistics about the race. A couple tidbits. Who wore the yellow jersey the most days?  (No, it's not Lance Armstrong with 83 days, but Eddy Merkx of Belgium with 111 days.) After Paris, which city hosted the Tour the most times? (Bourdeaux.)

Of course, you'll also want to check out the Amgen Tour of California pages, which includes a large archive of data on the three previous races.

Incidentally, the National Bicyle Dealers Association has reported that sales of bicycles, parts and assessories were a $6 billion industry in 2007, a year in which 18.2 million units were sold. Check out other market data in the NBDA Industry Overview 2007

Today's grim news of big jumps in state and regional unemployment makes one wonder just when the job slump will turn around. Forecasting is always dicey, but two local think tanks offer some statistical predictions.

The state's jobless rate will peak at 9.6 percent sometime in late 2009, remain over 9 percent throughout 2010 and dip to 8.5 percent in 2011. Payroll employment will drop by 400,000 jobs in the next 12 months with the largest layoffs still to come -- so says the University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center in a December report on the California and Central Valley economy. The Center also predicts annual unemployment rates of 9.3 and 9.4 percent for the Sacramento region in 2009 and 2010.

The Sacramento Regional Research Institute (a joint venture of SACTO and CSUS) looks at the near future in terms of job gains and losses. With the exception of the business and professional services sector, the percent hange in the number of jobs will remain in negative territory through Q3 2009. The overall trend is for job losses to bottom out this spring and begin to approach zero by the fall. The construction sector, however, will continue to see-saw between 8 and 11 percent loss in employment.

obama_wordle_our.gifPropublica, the online journalism site, and the New York Times have both developed "word clouds" for presidential inauguration speeches. What's a word cloud? It's a visual display of the most prominent words found in a text or group of texts. The larger the word or phrase, the more times it occurs in the document(s). Many blogs -- including this one -- provide "tag clouds" to show what tags (topics) are most featured over the life of the blog. 

The New York Times' Inaugural Words, 1789 to the Present is a complete set of word clouds for all 44 presidents. They make it easy to browse from speech to speech, so you can compare the preoccupations of the speakers. For example, "constitution" is the top word in Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address, while "war" leads his second.

Propublica goes a step further with an Inaugural Address Quiz. It challenges you to match eleven word clouds to their speakers. Very common words, like "the", are left out in these examples. "We" and "our" are also absent, but because Barack Obama used them so much in his address, Propublica generated a second version of his cloud (see above) to reflect their special significance in his address.   

obama.jpg Today we are all witnesses to history as the first African American is sworn in as President of the United States. Timelines help us grasp the many struggles and triumphs that led to this moment. Here are just a few of the fine chronologies found on the Internet:

Looking Backward (National Museum of African American History and Culture). Starting in 1525 with African slaves who accompanied the Spanish in the New World, this detailed timeline ends with the election of Barark Obama.

Time Line of African American History, 1852-1925 (Library of Congress American Memory). This one covers the important political and legal events and includes some statistics from the decennial censuses.

African-American History Timeline (Infoplease). Beginning in 1619, this chronology of black history stretches from the early slave trade through Affirmative Action.

January 19, 2009
View the MLK FBI files

MLK.jpgOn this Martin Luther King holiday, it's appropriate to recall the controversial surveillance of the civil rights leader by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1960s. From 1963 to his death in 1968, the FBI wiretapped King and conducted a intensive campaign to discredit him. The Bureau amassed a huge amount of material on King and almost 17,000 pages of his file have been made public through the Freedom of Information Act.

The FBI's FOIA website displays only about 200 pages of information -- essentially a 1977 report on the government's surveillance of King and its suspected role in his assassination. (But you can find the complete file in the Internet Archive.) In addition to the King document, the site provides access to surveillance files on many other celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Cesar Chavez, Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.

Ever wonder if the FBI has a file on you? Through FOIA, you can request a copy of your file or that of a deceased relative. The FBI's instructions are here. For help composing a FOIA request, try the Get My FBI File and Get Grandpa's FBI File web sites.  


Of course everyone remembers John F. Kennedy's admonition: "Ask not what your country can do for you..." But do know who spoke these other famous inaugural lines?

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." (Ronald Reagan, 1981)

"I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." (Franklin Roosevelt, 1937)

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the fight as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in..." (Abraham Lincoln, 1865)

The Internet has dozens of sites on presidential inauguration history. The American Presidency Project is one source for the complete text of every speech, George Washington to George W. Bush. HotChalk has collected videos of inaugural addresses starting with Franklin Roosevelt

credit.jpgThere's really nothing like a map to get a good overview of the economic situation. The New York Federal Reserve recently debuted two cool (and disturbing) interactive maps showing the extent of mortgage and credit card problems throughout the country.

The first map displays non-prime (subprime and Alt-A) mortgage conditions in the United States as revealed by 12 indicators, such as the number of non-prime loans per 100,000 households, percent of loans that are adjustable-rate and percent loans in foreclosure. These metrics are color-coded light to dark, with the darker colors expressing worse conditions in a particular state or county. The other U.S. map shows bank card and mortgage delinquency rates, plus their percent changes over four quarters. Again the data is color-coded light to dark to highlight states and counties with the worst personal credit problems.

Generally speaking, California's Central Valley counties are experiencing the toughest credit challenges in the state.

Yesterday the weather at Sacramento Executive Airport burst through the daily record with a high temperature of 74 degrees. The previous January 12th high was 67 degrees in 1980.

Where do you go to find daily high and low temperature records? The Bee's official source for climate data is Weather Underground. WU provides a useful calendar which displays the day's recorded temperatures and precipitation. Click on a specific day and you see daily records, median and year-to-date data on temperatures, precipitation, moisture and wind.

For other historical information the National Weather Service offers The Climate of Sacramento, California (1877-2005), a 91-page online report filled with daily, monthly and seasonal records of all types. Some of my favorites:

*Greatest number of consecutive days with maximum temperatures of 105 degrees or higher: Aug. 5-11, 1990.

*Greatest number of consecutive days with minimum temperatures of 32 degrees or lower: Dec. 20, 1990-Jan. 1, 1991.

*Wettest and driest water years: 1982-83 (37.49 inches of rain) and 1975-76 (7.25 inches). 

Bee data guy Phillip Reese just posted a new interactive database with which you can call up the latest crime stats on any U.S. city over 100,000 population. The data profiles display the number of crimes by type, as well as overall property and violent crime rates for the first six months of 2008. 2007 figures are included for comparison.

You can view this new semiannual Uniform Crime Report on the FBI web site. In addition to the city data, the report has two interesting tables showing the precent change in various crime types -- January to June 2008 -- by geographic region and population range

In continuing bad news about the economy, the nation's unemployment rate jumped a half point to 7.2 percent in December. As is this blog's morbid preoccupation, let's look at how the current figure compares historically. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly seasonally-adjusted jobless rates stretch back to 1948 and you have to go back to January 1993 (7.3 percent) to see a number bigger than last month's. Of course the unemployment picture has been worse at various times during the past 60 years. The jobless rate peaked at 10.8 percent at the end of 1982. What period had the lowest unemployment? It was in May-June 1953, when the percentage settled to a comfortable 2.5 percent.

With California's jobless rate at a 12-year peak of 8.4 percent, it's understandable that Employment Development Department (EDD) phone lines are flooded with calls by people applying for unemployment compensation. According to EDD monthly stats going back to January 1998, November's 292,913 initial claims for unemployment insurance were the highest since January 2002's total of 339,820 claims.

Kevin Johnson has been calling for the strong mayor form of city government for Sacramento. The change must be approved by the voters. You can find links to the charter amendement initiative and other related information here.

Just how many cities have a "mayor-council" system of governance (as opposed to the "council-manager" type)? The International City/County Management Association provides up-to-date statistics broken out by population range. Of the 36 municipalities with between 250,000 and 500,000 residents (Sacramento's population is 476,000), 17 are council-manager and 18 are mayor-council. A total of 3,131 of 6,651 municipalities covered in the survey (with populations of 2,500 or more) have a strong mayor.

Yesterday the Bee reported that due to the historic fiscal shortfall Sacramento city officials are laying off eight workers in the Development Services Department, saving $1 million in the next fiscal year. That brings up the question of just how big is the city's budget and how many people does the city employ? Fortunately, the City of Sacramento website has detailed reports and brief summaries of where revenues come from and how they are spent. The online documents cover fiscal 2003/04 to 2008/09. (Budget and employee figures for the last six years are compiled below.)

A little explanation: The General Fund is Sacramento's principal operating account. It's supported by taxes and fees and usually has no restrictions on its use. The Total Budget includes the General Fund, plus other funding that is earmarked for specific activities like water and sewer service.

FY Total Budget* Total FTEs General Fund* GF FTEs
2008/09 $965.6 5,300 $423.9 3,945
2007/08 $972.5 5,274 $431.2 3,932
2006/07 $991.9 5,110 $400.7 3,811
2005/06 $788.0 4,865 $352.0 3,594
2004/05 $710.0 4,310 $329.0 3,395
2003/04 $707.0 4,308 $304.0 3,395
*Millions of dollars

Although Californians approved Prop. 8 in November, the battle over its implementation continues. Last month Attorney General Jerry Brown refused to defend the voter initiative in court and filed a brief calling the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and urging the Supreme Court to invalidate it. Yesterday Prop. 8 supporters argued in a brief arguing that no state judiciary has the authority to strike down a constitutional amendment.

The California Courts web site has aggregated all the documents related to the Prop. 8 legal challenges in one convenient place. Here you'll find court opinions and news releases, plus briefs and letters submitted by both sides.

The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) isn't as well known a business indicator as, say, the Consumer Price Index. But as a measure of manufacturing activity, it's one good predictor of where the overall economy is headed. So today's news that last month's PMI fell to its lowest point since 1980 underscores the seriousness of the current recession.

The Institute of Supply Management (a trade group) has calculated the PMI since 1948. The index is based on a national survey of purchasing managers. A reading of 50 or more indicates that manufacturing is expanding. Anything less suggests the manufacturing is contracting. The PMI dropped to 32.4 in December from 36.2 in November. It had been 50.7 at the beginning of 2008.

Looking over the index during the past 60 years, the PMI was lowest in May 1980 (29.4) and highest in July 1950 (77.5). 

On Wednesday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released next year's proposed budget 11 days early. (The state Constitution requires governors to submit a budget by Jan. 10 of each year.) You can review his 2009-10 proposal online and also read earlier governor proposals and enacted budgets back to 2000-2001.

If you don't like plowing through much detail, there is a handy table in the California Statistical Abstract that briefly summarizes annual revenues and expenditures as far back as 1929-30. In that first fiscal year, revenues totalled $114.6 million and spending totalled $114.2 million. (Those were the days.) If you want a little more detail, the Abstract provides two other tables that break down revenues and expenditures into broad categories. (These only go back to FY 1993-94, however.) Generally speaking, education is the state's biggest expense (followed by health and human services). On the revenue side, the biggest contributor to the state's coffers is the personal income tax (followed by retail sales and use taxes). 

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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