Data Surfer

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Have a great Memorial Day holiday!

ourhousecrop.jpg If you use Google Maps, you know that service provides satellite views of streets and buildings. The level of detail varies from place to place, but generally the closest images display homes as fuzzy stamp-size blobs. Microsoft Live Search, on the other hand, offers a bird's eye view of properties. Actually four views -- each looking at the house from the east, west north and south. It's pretty creepy seeing one's home from four, relatively close-in angles that look like what Superman would see -- if he hovered outside your house.

In fairness to Google, the search leader does have 360-degree, street-level views of buildings. Not all streets are included, but there's a growing number of residential areas included. To use this feature, go into Google Maps, find an address and then drag the little orange man icon (found atop the zoom control) onto that location. If Google has street views for that spot, the street will turn blue and shift to the 360-degree photo. If the street isn't blue, then you're out of luck. You manipulate the street view with controls that let you pan up and down, as well as zoom in and out. 

Nothing earth-shattering in the July 1, 2008 estimates of population just released by the U.S. Census. The headline is "Nearly half of children under age 5 are minorities. Nation's population is growing older, more diverse".

The Bee posted an interactive database with which you can easily call up a demographic profile for any U.S. county with breakdowns for age, race and gender. Taking a look at population growth between 2007 and 2008, one finds two New Orleans parishes (St. Bernard [12.91 percent] and Orleans [8.24 percent]) occupying the no. 1 and no. 3 spots for percent change. That's likely due to the return of residents who left because of Hurriance Katrina. No. 2 on that list is Pinal County, Ariz. (8.78 percent), whose growth is fueled by the expansion of metropolitan Phoenix. In California the fastest growing county continues to be Placer with 2.96 percent.

Childbearing by unmarried women -- which leveled off nine years ago -- has been rising steeply since 2002, according to a new report issued today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Babies born to unmarried women totaled 1.7 million in 2007, about 26% more than in 2002. Nationally the percentage of all live births to unmarried mothers rose from 34.0 in 2002 to 39.7 in 2007. In March, the CDC provided state-level data on nonmarital childbearing in 2007. California ranked 27th among the states with 38.9 percent of births to unmarried women. Mississippi was tops with 53.7 percent. Utah ranked last with 19.6 percent.

Thumbnail image for dropouts.jpgToday State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell released annual dropout rates for the 2007-08 school year. Statewide, the dropout rate improved slightly over the previous year: 21.1 to 20.1 percent. The Bee's Phillip Reese just posted an interactive map displaying the latest enrollment and dropout data for all the high schools in the 4-county region. The schools are color-coded in three ranges to show which schools have the biggest dropout problem.

If you want to drill down deeper into your schools dropout stats, use the "Dataquest" interactive database provided by the California Education Department. Here you'll find a load of data on school and district performance, staffing and students. Just select your county, district or school and the "dropout" category to bring up the information. The statistics are broken out in two ways: 1) dropouts by grade and ethnicity, and 2) number of exits by exit category (all the reasons a student might leave a school before graduating). This data is only available for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years.  

Today President Obama lauded the health care industry's promise to curb costs by $2 trillion over the next ten years. Representatives of hospitals, insurance companies, drug makers and doctors told the Administration they would slow cost increases by 1.5 percentage points a year. That begs the question: just how much does the United States spend on medical care? And how fast have expenditures been rising?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (a division of U.S. Health and Human Services) keeps track of the nation's health spending and makes this data available through its web site. In total, the National Health Expenditure (NHE) grew 6.1 percent to $2.2 trillion in 2007. The annual percent change in NHE is expected to be 6.2 percent in 2008 and average 6.1 over the next decade.

CMS also provides a bunch of historical and projected data analyzing the NHE by type of service, source of funds, age of patients, state, per capita spending, spending as a percent of GDP, etc. In California, for instance, estimated health care costs grew from $81 billion in 1991 to $166 billion in 2004. That's an annual average increase of 5.7 percent. In comparison, national spending over the same period grew from $669 billion to $1.5 trillion -- an annual average increase of 6.7 percent.

The Legislative Accounting Ofice today warned that the state may have to borrow $20 billion at the start of the next fiscal year just to pay day-to-day bills. In its latest report, the non-partisan body advises that balancing the budget is the best way the Legislature can shorten the Califonia's cash flow crisis.

The LAO provides some helpful historical data summarizing the state income and spending over many years. They have two Excel spreadsheets with a pivot function that let you filter the information by various parameters. The expense data, running from fiscal 1984-85 to 2009-10, breaks out spending by specific department. You can easier see, for example, that Caltrans' expendidures grew from $2.1 billion in 1984-85 to $10.2 billion in the projected 2009-10 budget. Likewise, the revenue data, running from fiscal 1950-01 to 2009-10, breaks out income derived from specific taxes and fees.


Today the Obama Administration announced its intention to curb the loss of federal revenue to offshore tax havens.  In 2004, says a White House press release, "U.S. multinational corporations paid about $16 billion of U.S. tax on approximately $700 billion of foreign active earnings - an effective U.S. tax rate of about 2.3%". Furthermore, it noted, 83 of the 100 largest U.S. public companies have subsidiaries operating in tax haven countries.

That last figure comes from a Dec. 2008 U.S. General Accounting Office report that also determined that 63 of the 100 largest U.S. publicly- traded federal contractors had tax haven operations. The GAO study lists each corporation in a chart that includes its rank in terms of revenue, the number of its foreign subsidies and the number of its subsidies located in tax havens. Among the companies are some well-known firms: Coca Cola, United Parcel Service, Pfizer, Safeway, Sears, etc.

Incidentally, the Internal Revenue Service provides a good backgrounder on "Abusive Offshore Tax Avoidance Schemes". It's intended to help taxpayers recognize and steer clear of fraudulent offers to shelter funds in foreign locales.

Thumbnail image for jobless.jpgGoogle has debuted a new service to help users find and visualize authoritative data provided by government sources. Essentially Google aggregates statistics from public web sites and presents them an interactive chart. They've begun modestly, starting with just state and county population and unemployment figures. (The company promises to add other datasets in the near future.) 

Even so, the data Google has already charted is interesting to play with. The unemployment chart allows you to compare monthly jobless figures (1990 to March 2009) for any state and county in the country. You can easily see, for example, that Sacramento County has trailed behind California in its unemployment rate until just the past few months when the county caught up with the state. On the population side, the Google chart shows Sacramento not growing as fast as the state (on a percentage basis) for the period, 1980 to 2008.

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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