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December 31, 2009
Happy New Year!

bp midnight 2009.JPG[At midnight the K St. Mall comes to life with 12,000 celebrating the 2009 new year. January 1, 2009 photograph by Bryan Patrick  of the Sacramento Bee.]

As we say goodbye to 2009 and the Oh Oh Decade, it's good to look back at four essential public opinion measures as identified by the Gallup survey organization:

1. Satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. Collective satisfaction in the country was high at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency (69 percent). It peaked in Dec. 2001 as the country rallied after the 9/11 attacks (70 percent). It fell steadily throughout the rest of the decade, bouncing up briefly at the start of the Obama presidency, dropping back down to 25 percent at present.

2. Most important problem facing the country. Throughout the 2000s Americans were focused about equally on health care, terrorism, the economy and war. Not surprisingly, concern with the economy shot up in February 2009 to its highest level (86 percent).   

3. Presidential job approval. Satisfaction with President Bush's performance soared to 90 percent shortly after the 9/11 attacks -- that's the highest rating in Gallup history. Then it dropped steadily to 25 percent near the end of his second term. Barack Obama started in the the mid-60s and dropped to around 50 percent currently. 

4. Congressional job approval. National feeling about federal lawmakers tended to mirror opinion of the president. Congressional approval rating climbed to a post-9/11 high of 84 percent, then fell precipitously to an all-time low of 14 percent in mid-2008.

One of the important uses of the 2010 U.S. Census count is the reapportioning and redistricting of 435 congressional seats in 2011. It's not clear at this point whether California will gain or lose one seat. It's also not clear whether the state's governor and legislators will redraw the congressional district boundaries as they have done in the past. That's because of a proposed voter initiative which would transfer the responsibility to an independent commission -- much as Proposition 11 did for California Assembly and Equalization Board districts.

A new documentary film Gerrymandering, premiering next year, will examine the partisan manipulation of the redistricting process and (the filmakers hope) spark a national debate about its abuses. Gerrymandering will feature interviews with scholars, journalists, reform advocates and politicans (including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson). See the YouTube trailer for the movie.

Accompanying the film's web site is The Redistricting Game, an online educational tool that gives players an opportunity to learn the political strategy of boundary-making by letting them draw up districts in a hypothetical state. 

As the year 2009 comes to a close, The Bee has asked writers and public figures to comment on the events and trends that defined the Oh Decade in California. For many people, these past ten years are permanently scarred by big tragedies: war, hurricanes, recession, etc. That's reflected in a recent Pew Research Center survey which found only 27 percent of respondents had a positive view of the 2000s (50 percent had a negative one). Compare that to the 57 percent who liked the 1990s. By far, the most important event characterizing the decade, says the survey, are the Sept. 11 attacks (53 percent vs 16 percent for the election of Barack Obama).

If you'd like to be reminded of what happened from 2000-09, but don't have time to plow through a long chronology, check out Newsweek's "The Decade in 7 Minutes": 

December 24, 2009
Happy Holidays!


[Night view of K Street with Christmas decorations, 1947. Eugene Hepting Collection. See the Center for Sacramento History for more vintage photographs and other materials.]

Americans are moving less because of the economic downturn, according to a new Brookings analysis of Census and IRS migration data. In the period 2007-09, U.S. migration fell to its lowest level since the 1940s. Twenty-three states, mostly in the West and Southeast, saw a decline in the number of people moving in or even a net loss of people moving out. California has had net domestic out-migration for more than ten years (attributed to the high cost of living along the coast). But the rate of loss has slowed in the last two years. The state's out-migration peaked in 2005-06 at -285,494 and dropped to -144,061 in 2007-08.

In the Sacramento metropolitian area, migration has remained on the plus side, falling from 37,274 in 2000-01 to 1,779 in 2005-06. In the latest year available, 2007-08, the region welcomed 4,524 newcomers.

The Bureau of Economic Statistics today released fresh data on worker compensation. According to the BEA, compensation grew in 80 percent of the nation's counties between 2007-2008. Nationally, the average annual pay per job increased 2.6 percent to $56,116. (But note: inflation rose 3.3 percent in the same period.)

The BEA report includes a color-coded map showing percent change in compensation broken down by county. It also provides a table showing the stats for the largest 168 counties in the United States (counties with at least $10 billion in aggregate compensation in 2008). Sacramento County's average annual pay rose 4.2 percent to $63,429. Sacramento tied with Kern for 16th place in terms of growth of average compensation, 2007-08.

The climate change summit in Copenhagen appears to be deadlocked with developed and developing countries arguing over targets, verification and aid to poorer nations. China and the United States, in particular, are debating just how much each should reduce their carbon emissions. That begs the question, just how much carbon do these and other nations spew into the atmosphere?

The British Guardian newspaper has posted a terrific data visualization that vividly shows the total carbon produced by each country since the Kyoto conference (1997-2007). The graphic is color-coded with larger circles corresponding to the bigger emitters. Over the ten-year period, the United States produced the most carbon (64,166 million tonnes), followed by China (45,301 million tonnes). But China surpassed the U.S. in CO2 emissions during the latest year measured (2007) and the former appears to be increasing its carbon releases at a faster rate. Those figures are available in a Google spreadsheet tracking world emissions by country from 1980 through 2007. A second table ranks countries by per-capita CO2.

Bee data maven Phillip Reese has created a searchable database of license records for every registered nurse, licenses vocational nurse and certified nursing assistant in the state. You can call up the information by individual's name or place where practicing. What you get is a summary indicating the status of the license and whether the person has been disciplined. 

While we're on the subject of nurses, check out ProPublica's investigation of government regulation of nursing in California. The reporters found many instances where regulators failed to act against nurses whose misconduct had been verified. Sometimes the Board of Registered Nursing took more than three years to investigate and discipline licenses holders. That series ran last summer. Recently Propublica discovered that incompetent and impaired individuals often find their way into temp agencies supplying nurses to hospitals. Apparently these firms have been lax in their background checking.

Last week as local officials scrambled to find temporary shelter for the homeless contending with the cold, the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a new analysis of hunger and homelessness in 27 American cities -- including Sacramento. This is the 23rd annual report documenting these problems and how cities are addressing them.

On average, the need for food assistance increased 26 percent from last year in the reporting cities. Nineteen of the 26 cities reported an increase in family homelessness, while individual homelessness declined or stayed the same in 16 towns.

Sacramento (p. 42) reported a 31 percent fall in the number of homeless individuals, but saw a 14 percent hike in homeless families during the same period. City officials cited unemployment, foreclosures and social service cuts as factors contributing to the increase. (Sacramento did not report any data on local hunger for this report.)

A new study by the UC San Diego Global Information Industry Center attempts to calculate the total amount of information (digital and analog) that Americans gobble in a year. According to How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers, U.S. households consumed 3.6 zettabytes of data last year. Most of that information came in the form of television and computer games. But it also includes activities like cell phone use, surfing the Internet, listening to the radio, and reading books, magazines, newspapers, etc. On average each American assimilated 33.8 gigabytes of information and 100,564 words every day.

So what the heck is a zettabyte? It's equivalent to 1 billion terabytes, or 1 million million gigabytes. (The typical PC hard drive holds about 100 gigabytes of information.)   

Last night's low temperatures remind us that sub-freezing conditions are not unusual in the Sacramento region. Such cold weather can last even several days, according to historic records. NOAA's climate memorandum for Sacramento (p. 43) says the longest span of consecutive days with minimum temperatures 32 degrees or below was 13 (Dec. 20, 1990 thru Jan. 1, 1991). As for non-consectutive periods, Jan. 1949 wins with 24 days of sub-freezing temps in one month.

Last friday's student protest at CSUS is the latest in the push back against budget cuts and higher fees at California universities.

Commentators ask rhetorically why the state spends more on prisons than it does on college education. But it that true? In a recent issue brief, the Legislative Analyst's Office attempts to address the question. Considered together, says the LAO, corrections and higher education represent about 20 percent of General Fund spending. Ten years ago higher ed took up about 12.5 percent of the General Fund -- corrections less than eight percent. Today the share of each is about equal. That's due to the fact that the cost per inmate has risen, while college funding has gradually relied more on student fees.

The Sacramento region is known to be fairly unsafe for pedestrians. Every so often the paper runs stories on tragic accidents, the latest being the hit-and-run death of a 4-year-old boy outside a North Sacramento school.

A new report, "Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths," ranks metropolitan areas for risk to pedestrians using recent stats on fatal accidents and the number of people who walk to work. The authors employ a "Pedestrian Danger Index" for each of 52 MSAs with over a million people. Turns out Sacramento is 22nd on the list with a PDI of 75.9. (Orlando, Fla. tops the list with an index of 221.5.)

As a state, California ranks second behind Hawaii in the highest average fatalities per 100,000 people aged 65 or older.

A data-rich web site called posted a new list of the safest colleges and universities in the United States. The ranking is based on 2008 crimes reported by campus officials. analyzed property and violent crime stats for 450 schools and assigned to each campus an overall safety ranking. There doesn't seem to be a connection between safety and academic prestige. Many of the safest institutions are community colleges. Number one is Arkansas State University in Beebe.

The two local universities are included in the safety study. (Area community colleges didn't report enough crime data to be ranked.) CSU Sacramento comes in with a rank of 63 with a overall safety score of 95.9 out of 100. UC Davis ranks 434 with a score of 72.6.

Can you boost a metro area's economy by reducing the number of its dropouts? That's the contention of a new study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, which looked at the economic benefit of decreasing the dropout rate in America's fifty largest cities. The Alliance estimates that, nationally, over 600,000 students dropped out of the Class of 2008. Cutting that number in half would result in $4.1 billion in additional wages over the course of an average year for the those individuals earning a diploma (as compared to those who don't). And as a result of the higher salaries and increased spending, state and local tax revenue would grow by $536 million during an average year.

As for the Sacramento region, the study concludes that halving the 7,140 dropouts in 2008 would result in $54 million in additional wages and $8 million in increased state and local revenue collected in an average year.


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

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