Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

Attention civic leaders. If you're concerned about low interest in your communities in the upcoming census count, the U.S. Census Bureau suggests you consult 2000 participation data to see what neighborhoods will likely lag behind this time around. The Bureau makes this easy with a national interactive map that quickly displays participation rates for states, counties and census tracts.

"Participation" refers to the percentage of households who voluntarily return their mail-in questionnaires. This matters a lot to officials because Census workers will have to be sent to any address not returning forms. It's estimated that for every one percent of additional mail participation, taxpayers save $85 million in Census costs.

The participation map tool is color-coded to show how various geographies have performed in the past. In northern California, we see fairly low rates in rural counties, such as Lake, Calaveras, Mono, Plumas and Sierra. In Sacramento, most neighborhoods show healthy participation with the exception of a few tracts in poorer neighborhoods.

This week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he's consider the use of a controversial tactic to bypass Republican opposition and pass a health care bill. The procedural move known as reconciliation would allow the Senate to approve legislation with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to end a filibister. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was livid at the prospect, calling it "arrogant" and a means to ram through a major bill he says most Americans oppose.

Though controversial, reconciliation has been used several times in the past by both parties in control of Congress since 1974, when the procedure was created. The Brooking Institution offers a concise history of reconciliation which includes a handy list of legislation passed by it. These bills mostly deal with budgets, but some pertain to tax cuts, Medicare, jobs, economic growth, food stamps, college costs and welfare. 

For a good primer on the politics of reconciliation, take a look at today's New York Times "Prescriptions" blog entry. For a longer historical analysis, see The Budget Reconciliation Process: The Senate's "Byrd Rule," published by the Congressional Research Service.

February 22, 2010
How healthy is your county?

A new data-rich report by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that where you live impacts your health. County Health Rankings aggregates key indicators for every county in the nation. And it compares each county to others within its state. Indicators are grouped into several categories: mortality, morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care, social/economic factors and physical environment.

In California, Sacramento County ranks 32nd in health outcomes (as measured by factors such as premature death, sick days, fair-poor reported adult health status). Placer comes in 6th, El Dorado 10th and Yolo 12th.

The U.S. Census Bureau this week released its latest (Oct. 2009) data on the use of the Internet by American households and individuals. The statistics are broken down by several factors: age, sex, race, Hispanic-origin, educational attainment, employment status, broadband utilization, etc.

Even after 17 years the World Wide Web has been in existence, only 68.7 percent of U.S. households have the Internet -- though 76.7 percent of them include at least one individual who accesses the Net from some other location. Over the past 12 years, the percentage of U.S. households with Internet access grew 18.0 to 68.7 percent. And in general, the younger and more educated the individual the more likely s/he belongs to a household with Internet.

California ranks 24th among the states in terms of the percentage of individuals living in households with Internet: 67.6 percent. New Hampshire is tops with 75.5 percent.

The National Center for Health Statistics released yesterday Health, United States, 2009, the 33rd annual compendium of data on nation's health and health care system. This 574-page book contains 150 trend tables covering a variety of topics ranging from mortality and fertility to health resource utilization and expenditure. 

Among the highlights in the report:

The birth rate among teenagers, 15-19, rose five percent between the years 2005 and 2007.

In 2007 life expectancy at birth rose to a record 77.9 years, up from 75.4 years in 1990.

In 2007, Americans visited doctors' offices, hospital outpatient and emergency rooms 1.2 billion times.

The percentage of people taking at least one prescription drug increased from 39 to 47 percent from 1988 to 2006.

There are also some state-level tables tracking multi-year trends on Medicare, Medicaid and the uninsured.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the federal stimulus, aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. There's been much political debate on how much the $862 billion bill has helped the economy. At the end of January, about $334 billion had been approved for projects. Of that, $179 billion had actually been spent. (Another $119 billion went to tax cuts.)

The Administration's web site provides detailed state-by-state breakdowns of funds award for federal contracts, grants and loans, as well as funds received and jobs created (as of Dec. 31, 2009). California has been awarded a total of $21.5 billion, of which $7.7 billion has been received. Recipients in the state report the funding of 70,745 jobs. See the Download Center for bulk data on the stimulus you can crunch for yourself.

The journalistic watchdog group ProPublica commemorates the anniversary with two new interactive features. Its Stimulus Speed Chart shows graphically how fast the government is spending money in each of the major agencies. (On average, 30 percent has been spent, 26 percent is in process and 42 percent has yet to be spent.) The Stimulus Investigations Chart is an ongoing list of instances where money has gone to contractors investigated for serious waste, fraud or abuse -- now or in the past. It includes some large corporations in California which got contracts despite pollution violations and alleged fraud (as reported by California Watch).

The popularity of marriage in the United States has been dropping for decades, says the Pew Research Center. According to 2008 Census figures, only 52 percent of males and 48 percent of females (over 15) were married in 2008. The median age at first marriage has also been climbing for many years. Currently, it sits at 28 years old for men and 26 years old for women. California trails the nation in the percentage of adults who are married: 49 percent of males and 46 percent of females. The state's first marriage age is little higher than the national median: 29 for men, 27 for women.

The Bee has prepared a color-coded interactive map showing the 2008 marital status of Californians in the more populous counties. With it you can see the number and percentages of married and divorced indivuals broken out by gender.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released its latest annual estimates of "unauthorized immigrants" living in the nation. This is a snapshot of this population as of January 2009 with data broken down by time period of entry, country of origin, state of residence, age and sex.

DHS believes the number of undocumented immigrants actually fell 11.6 to 10.8 million between 2008 and 2009. (In 2000 there were 8.5 million.) The large majority of these individuals (62 percent) came from Mexico. Many of the undocumented live in California (24 percent), Texas (16 percent) and Florida (7 percent). The population is skewed toward males (58 percent) and adults aged 25 to 44 (61 percent).

Anthem Blue Cross' big hike in individual health insurance premiums provoked strong reactions from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. It also reflects the relentless growth of health spending in the nation as a whole.

The same day the Anthem news broke, the journal Health Affairs published an article that projects health-related expenditures out to 2019. In several sobering tables, the authors estimate the aggregate cost, plus its proportion of GDP, of health care in the United States. They also break down the spending into key categories (hospital, dental, drugs, nursing home, public health, research, etc.).

The bottom line: the National Health Expenditure (NHE) will grow from $2.1 trillion in 2007 to $3.3 trillion in 2019 (in 2005 dollars). As a percentage of GDP, the NHE will increase from 15.9 to 19.3 percent over the same period. With baby boomers entering the Medicare system, public health care spending is expected to exceed private spending by 2012.

On Monday President Obama unveiled his proposed $3.83 trillion budget for fiscal year 2011 which carries a record $1.5 trillion deficit. Putting these numbers in some perspective is not so easy, but there are online resources that can help. Here are a few I've found. I'm sure there are others. Share what you've discovered in the comments below.

  • Budget of the United States Government: Browse Fiscal Year 2011. The full text of pertinent documents collected by the Office of Management and Budget. It includes the President's message, goals for the budget, fiscal summaries for the major U.S. departments, summary tables, and a spreadsheet detailing proposed spending by function.
  • Advanced Search: Budget of the United States Government. The Government Printing Office's full-text search engine for the U.S. Budget and other essential documents (like congressional bills and the Federal Register). This lets you look for specific words and phrases in the budget. You can confine the search to a particular fiscal year, president, agency, branch, etc.
  • Obama's Budget and How It Compares to George Bush's Last One. The Guardian newspaper's handy chart breaking down the 2011 budget by department and showing how much more (or less) the proposed allocations compare to those in the 2009 Bush plan.
  • OMB Historical Tables. These provide "data on budget receipts, outlays, surpluses or deficits, Federal debt, and Federal employment over an extended time period, generally from 1940 or earlier to 2011 or 2015". Inflation adjusted for easy comparisons. Of particular interest are the tables tracking budget surplus/deficits -- and their percentages of GDP -- over many decades.
  • Historical Budget Tables by Department, 1962-2015. Two spreadsheets displaying departmental allocations in terms of dollars and percent of overall spending. This is a quick way to see changing government priorities (say of defense or social welfare) over the long-term.

As a followup to its recent report on political party preferences, the Gallup polling group today released its study of ideology in the U.S. population. It seems counterintuitive, but despite the solid majority of Americans calling themselves Democrats (or leaning Democratic), Gallup found the number of people identifying themselves as politically conservative exceeded self-identified liberals in every one of the 50 states. (The District of Columbia is the only place where liberals outnumber conservatives.) However, it's important to note that most states have substantial percentages of moderates, and that no state has a conservative majority (though Alabama comes close with 49.4 percent).

In California, the ideological breakdown is: 33.1 percent conservative; 25.4 percent liberal; and 37.5 percent moderate.

Although Republicans made some gains in national party affiliation from 2008 to 2009, the United States remained solidly Democratic last year. That's according to a Gallup study which analyzed party preference surveys conducted in all 50 states. Gallup found that in 2008, 52 percent of American adults identified themselves as Democrats or were Democratic-leaning independents. Forty percent in 2008 said they were Republicans or leaned Republican. That 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008 shrank to eight points in 2009 (49 to 41 percent). 

The top three Democratic states in 2009 were the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island (77.9, 56.8 and 56.2 percent, respectively). The top three GOP states were Wyoming, Utah and Idaho (53.8, 51.9 and 49.7 percent).

In 2009 the majority of Californians either identified themselves as Democrats or leaned Democratic, 51.2 to 31.5 percent Republican. Compare that Gallup estimate to the official voter registration stats complied by the Secretary of State's office in May 2009: 44.5 percent registered Democrats versus 31.0 Republican (20.0 declined to state).  

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

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30