Data Surfer

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Yesterday, the Congress Joint Economic Committee released a new report containing handy econonic snapshots for each state and the District of Columbia. It's meant to give policymakers ready access to the major indicators: jobs, unemployment, personal earnings and housing. The two-page summaries aggregate essential data that describes the state's economic condition and outlook. There's also an interesting chart comparing the particular state's unemployment and job losses against every other state and the nation as a whole.

California's snapshot generally shows the state has been hit hard by the recession. Unemployment and job losses both rank higher than the national average. The outlook for California and the nation, according to the JEC:

As the economy recovers from the Great Recession, service-providing industries are projected to add the most jobs between 2008 and 2018, with the largest gains in professional and business services, education, health care and social assistance, and State and local government. Within the goods-producing sector of the economy, only the construction industry is projected to add jobs above its 2008 level.

At tonight's State of the Union, President Obama is expected to renew calls for a bipartisan commission to address the problem of ballooning federal deficits. That comes on the heels of the Congressional Budget Office's warning "that if current laws and policies remained unchanged, the federal budget would show a deficit of $1.3 trillion for fiscal year 2010". CBO also projects that -- if current practices stay the same -- annual deficits would hover around $600 billion in the next ten years, dropping to $687 billion in 2020.

But what if the government were to take some significant action to curb the shortfalls, as suggested by various ideological camps? Things like reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or extending Bush-era tax cuts? What would be the long-term effect on deficits? You can see for yourself with the CBO's interactive chart. Just check the option and see how it changes the deficit picture in the next 10 years. It turns out that freezing discretionary appropriations at 2010 levels would lower the 2020 deficit by the greatest margin (down to $392 billion).

USAjobs.jpgIt's ironic, but just as the President is seeking a spending freeze for some domestic programs, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced a complete revamping of its federal employment web site. The makeover of is intended to simplify and streamline the process of searching for, applying for and tracking government positions. In addition an applicant can build or upload a resume at the site.

The search component couldn't be easier. Just type in a keyword (e.g., accountant) and a city or zip code and hit "search". The subsequent listing shows a job summary, agency and salary. You can refine the search geographically by setting a mile radius around the desired location. In additon to keyword searching, you can also browse jobs by agency or state

Just out of curiosity, I searched for positions within a 50 miles of Sacramento. At this writing there were 142 open positions ranging in pay from $9 an hour (Park Ranger, Bureau of Land Management) to $134,647 a year (Fire & Aviation Director, U.S. Forest Service).

The Brookings Institution yesterday released a report analyzing the overall shift of poverty from urban to suburban areas. Two recessions in the past decade have increased the number of poor people by 5.2 million, says Brookings, and almost half of that growth occured in the suburbs of the nation's biggest cities. Nationally, poverty in suburbs grew five times faster than in primary cities during the period 2000 to 2008.  

The Brookings study examined economic data from years 2000, 2007 and 2008 for the 95 largest MSAs. Not surprisingly, the biggest jump in poverty rate (2000 to 2008) was seen in the Midwest -- especially in the struggling auto manufacturing regions. Here in the Sacramento metro area, the number people living under the poverty rate increased a total of 22,678. But the number actually fell in the city proper by 2,755 and increased in the suburbs by 25,433. In terms of percentages, the city's poverty rate dropped from 17.5 to 14.3 percent and increased 11.0 to 11.1 percent in the burbs.

Thumbnail image for GATES.jpgAs a general rule I don't review celebrity blogs and Twitter feeds in Data Surfer. But when it comes to Bill Gates -- one of the world's richest men, technology mogul and leading philanthropist -- well, you just have to take notice. Gates, of course, is co-founder and chairman of Microsoft. In 2006 he ceased day-to-day activities at Microsoft to devote more time with his global charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Yesterday, Gates began posting to Twitter ("sharing cool things I'm learning through my foundation work and other interests..."). And today he launched The Gates Notes, a means to keep the public apprised of his activities and travels. It's also a place to share conversations with experts in fields that interest him most: energy; global health; education; agriculture; development; environment; foreign aid and technology. The site includes links to related materials Gates finds particularly helpful

One of the great things about the Internet is its capacity to quickly start gathering essential information when a disaster hits. But because the Net is decentralized, it's likely such efforts will be fragmented and uncoordinated. 

That's what happened soon after the Haitian earthquake. Several web sites, including the Miami Herald, CNN and the New York Times began collecting information on missing persons and the people trying to find them. That created isolated "silos" of data which greatly complicated the process of reconnecting friends and families.

Fortunately, search giant Google stepped in to help coordinate the information flow by aggregating the data and establishing a single PersonFinder data-entry function for collecting the information. PersonFinder is portable and has been embedded in other web pages, such as and the U.S. State Department's earthquake page. So far, the Google database is tracking some 32,500 records.

This Martin Luther King Day The Bee published a story on local students who refuse to identify their race and ethnicity for purposes of state and federal data collection. Statewide, the number of K-12 students who listed their race as "multiple/no response" jumped from 124,324 in 2006 to 210,501 in 2009. In Sacramento County, the number rose from 3,463 to 10,375 in that same period.

If you're curious about the demographic trend at your school district or school, browse on over to the California Education Department's DataQuest page. Here you'll find an easy-to-navigate database of statistics on school performance, staffing and student characteristics. Pick the "level" (state, county, district or school). Then "enrollment" under the "student demographics" under the "subject" drop-down list. After choosing the year and name of your district/school, you'll be given the option to view "enrollment by ethnicity" which displays figures for major race and ethnic classifications, plus "multiple or no response".

In response to Tuesday's devastating earthquake in the Caribbean, the U.S. Census Bureau has aggregated statistics on Haiti and Haitians living in the United States. According to Census figures, an estimated 1.3 million people (14 percent of the nation's population) live in the 10 communes (a geographic unit) experiencing the quake's greatest intensity. Another 14 communes with 2.5 million people are located in a zone of lesser, but still substantial intensity (see accompanying map).

The 2008 American Community Survey includes data on the number of U.S. residents who were born in Haiti and who are of Haitian ancestry. Here are the population stats for the nation, state and region:

  Haitian Ancestry Born in Haiti
United States 805,691 534,969
California 9,102 3,386
Sacramento MSA 45 97

"Covering the Decade in Magazine Covers" is the print media's answer to CNN's "The Decade in 7 Minutes". Prepared by the Magazine Publishers Association and the American Society of Magazine Editors, the former video is a two-minute survey of the Naughts as documented by 92 iconic images. You'll see many of the same events that defined the decade: terrorism, war, scandal, etc.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released demographic data on people executed in 2008 or who were under sentence of death as of Dec. 31, 2008. The report tracks various characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, education, criminal history and marriage status. Tables also show the number and method of execution, state-by-state.

Some highlights: 37 individuals were executed in 2008 (20 white and 17 black -- all men). There were 18 in Texas; four in Virginia; three each in Georgia and South Carolina; two each in Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma; one in Kentucky (none in California). At the end of 2008, there were 3,207 persons under the death sentence (1,798 white and 1,338 black; 13.2 percent were Hispanic). In California there were 669 under the death sentence (397 white and 243 black). Of these 15 were women and 151 were Hispanic.

Barbasol.jpgHere's a pop culture quiz: what do the following phrases have in common?

"I like Barbasol so well I shave all over."
"It's New! It's Lilt!"
"Are your teeth alluring, too?"

They're all magazine advertising slogans published in the 1950s. And they're all part of an online collection of over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian print ads housed at the Duke University Libraries. This image database covers five product areas (beauty and hygiene, radio and television sets, transportation and World War II propaganda) and spans 1911-1955. The ads feature many well-known brands that have existed for decades (like Ivory Soap, Crest, Greyhound Bus and Listerine), as well as those that have vanished from the marketplace (Burma-Shave, Wildroot, Braniff). The Duke collection is searchable by product name, company, general category and date range.

If printed magazine advertising seems a little old-fashioned to you, Duke also has an online collection of vintage television commericals dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. These are well-indexed and playable in your web browser.

The investigative journalism team California Watch officially debuted its web site over the weekend (though it has been publishing stories for a few months now). CW projects have been published in many California newspapers including the recent analysis of the dubious transfer of campaign donations from county political party committees to individual candidates

Of special interest to this blog's readers is California Watch's Data Center, a growing collection of important state-related databases the group acquired and made available online in an easy-to-search format. The initial datasets cover such things as federal stimulus grants, state wildfires, local unemployment, crime, swine flu and Census stats.

Related to Data Center is CW's Resources page, a good listing of external sources of data on state politics, education, health, public safety and the environment. This page also links to databases you can download and manipulate yourself. 

Today the US. Secret Service acknowledged that a third (unnamed) person crashed that infamous White House state dinner in November. We don't yet know the name of this individual, but we do know the names of hundreds of other White House visitors now that the Obama Administration has started posting visitor logs on its web site.

In September, President Obama ordered the voluntary disclosure of visitor records. Each month, the logs from the previous 90-120 days will be posted online in a searchable database. Those listings include everyone who comes to the White House complex for an appointment, tour or other function (exceptions allowed for national security reasons). Last month, the Administration added more than 25,000 visitor records created between Sept. 16-30.

The information in the records is limited: visitor name, date, time, person visited, etc. There's also a "description" of the meeting that's fairly cryptic ("group tour" or "Energy Reform Meeting"). In many records there's no description at all. Still, it's interesting to scan for well-known people in the records. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for example, visited twice -- once to meet with the President and once with economic advisor Lawrence Summers.

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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