Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

If you're an international statistics junkie, have I got a source for you.

Today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development release a huge compendium of fresh data covering a wide range of topics, including population, econonics, education, environment, government, technology, and more. The OECD Factbook contains over 100 indicators that compare conditions in most of the world's nations. The 2010 edition is available free in three formats: as a web site, an online database or as an iPhone application. You can also order a print copy.

The stats in both the web site and database versions are easy to browse and manipulate. You drill down through a hierarchy of topics to specific tables. For example, in the "Population and Migration" section of the web version, there is an interesting table comparing the unemployment status of native-born and foreign-born workers in various countries. In general, immigrants have a tougher time finding work, but underlying factors (such as gender, age, education) vary from country to country. 

 The Associated Press today published the March update of its Economic Stress Index, a measure of economic health in every U.S. state and county. According to the AP the overall economy improved in 75 percent of the nation's 3,141 counties and in 38 of 50 states.

The ESI "calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates." A state or county which scores above 11 is generally considered economically distressed. Nevada leads the states with an index of 21.3. It's followed by Michigan (18.15), California (17.21), Florida (16.14) and Illinois (15.13). California's score rose 2.46 points since March 2009 and 7.23 points since October 2007.

Take a look at AP's helpful interactive map which displays ESI data for every county in the nation. It's color-coded by score-range as well as monthly and annual change in score. Sacramento County's current stress index is 18.63, up 2.05 points from a year ago and 9.2 point since October 2007. That's driven mostly by high unemployment.

With President Obama calling on Wall Street to stop fighting legislation that would reform the financial industry, it's a good time to profile a watch dog site that monitors the influence of the finance sector on Congress., the online service of the Center for Responsive Politics, crunches federal data to break down money spent on lobbying and campaign donations by industry. On the lobbying side, annual spending in the so-called FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate) has risen dramatically in the past ten years. The overall total in 2009 was $463 million compared to $208 million in 1998. The commercial banking sub-category grew from $32.5 million to $50.4 million over the same period.

Campaign contributions are similarly analyzed by industry. So far in this 2010 election cycle, a total of $117 million has been donated from the FIRE sector (individuals and PACS). Democrats got 56 percent, Republicans 44 percent of the cash. Of that, commercial banks gave $8.6 million (46 to 54 percent in favor of Republican lawmakers).

Which members of the 111th Congress received the most money from finance and the banks? John McCain got the most FIRE money ($35.9 million), followed by John Kerry ($19.8 million). Commerical banks gave McCain $2.8 million and Kerry $1.7 million. You can see data for all the other members and sort them by sub-category with the interactive table.

In another sign of the recession's toll on American wallets, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported a 1.7 percent decline in average personal income in 2009 figured at the state level. Great Lakes and Rocky Mountain states suffered the biggest declines. Nevada fell the most (-4.8 percent). West Virigina rose the most (2.1 percent). California, with a -2.8 percent drop, ranked in bottom third of states.

Looked at on a per-capita basis, U.S. personal income fell 2.6 percent in 2009. In the states, per capita personal income fell the most in Wyoming (-2.6 percent) and increased the most in West Virginia (1.8 percent). California took a tumble with a -3.5 percent decrease.

The BEA concluded that flagging construction and manufacturing contributed most to income declines in California, Arizona and Florida.

Last May Google launched its government data search service. Now the Internet giant has expanded it data offerings with a load of international statistics from the World Bank. These 54 World Development Indicators reflect economic, environmental, demographic and health conditions in countries and regions around the globe.

In addition to expanding its data collections, Google has enhanced its visualization capability with Public Data Explorer, a tool that makes large datasets easy to explore and manipulate. It not only lets you track specific indicators and geographies, Explorer also animates changes in the data over time. Take for example this longitudinal graph correlating fertility rate and life expectancy. The data point are color-coded and sized by region and population. Generally speaking, the more babies the average woman has, the shorter the life expectancy in the country. Click "play" and you see the stats evolve from 1960 to 2007 as fertility decreases and life spans increase in most places.

The number of federal bankruptcy filings rose 31.9 percent last year, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported on Tuesday. About 1.5 million were filed during the 2009 calendar year as compared to 1.1 million the previous year. Business filings increased percent 71.5 percent (43,533 to 60,837). Non-business bankruptcies increased percent 76.0 percent (1,074,108 to 1,412,838).

A U.S. Courts map displaying per capita bankruptcies by county shows the heaviest concentration of filings in the West, Midwest and Southeast parts of the country. The state table ranks California 11th in per capita filings (all types of bankruptcy). It ranks 8th in Chapter 7 and 18th in Chapter 13 categories.

For historical stats broken down by individual federal district, see this U.S. Courts data collection. (The Sacramento region is located in the Eastern District of California.)

Last November, this blog explained that the federal government tracks not one, but six unemployment measures for the country. They are designated U-1 through U-6 with U-3 (total unemployed as a percentage of the civilian labor force) being the "official" jobless rate. Many people feel the U-3 doesn't accurately reflect the true employment situation in this recession. They consider U-6 -- the broadest measure covering the unemployed and underemployed -- to be the best indicator.

The annual state-by-state U-6 figures have been released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the data is fairly grim. The nation as a whole had a 2009 annual average of 16.2 percent in the U-6 category. California shows 21.1 percent, the second highest among the states behind Michigan with 21.5 percent. The New York Times blog Economix provides a useful color-coded map comparing unemployment/underemployment across the country.

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.

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": 

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.

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.


Misery loves company. So with California facing yet another budget shortfall, it's comforting (if that's the appropriate emotion) to know that several other states are in the same fiscal pickle.

The Pew Center on the States today released a study identifying nine other states whose budgetary and economic troubles have approached California-like dimensions. Pew scored all 50 states by six factors

  • high foreclosure rate
  • increasing unemployment
  • decreasing state revenue
  • relative size of budget deficit
  • legal obstacles to balancing budget (such as a supermajority budget vote threshold)
  • poor money management practices

and concluded that Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin most match our state's fiscal challenges. This is troubling news for the nation recovery as a whole, since together these 10 troubled states account for more than a third of U.S. population and economic output.

Despite the uptick in the Gross Domestic Product, Friday's news that the national unemployment rate broke through 10 percent is a sober reminder that the recession is far from over. The 10.2 percent October jobless figure reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the "official" unemployment figure generally quoted by politicians and the news media. But lately you see more stories and commentaries quoting a much higher rate of unemployment, the latest being 17.5 percent.  

But where does the other number come from? It turns out the BLS calculates not one, but six different jobless estimates. These are known in bureaucrat-speak as "alternative measures of labor underutilization" aka U-1 thu U-6. U-3 (total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian workforce) is the official govenment rate. That rose to 10.2 percent last month from 6.6 percent a year ago. U-6 (defined as total unemployed plus the marginally employed) is the most dire figure. That's the one that hit 17.5 percent in October, up from 12.0 percent the year before.


California's Central Valley continues to be the bread basket of the nation, but lags behind the rest of the state and nation in the economic recovery. That's the conclusion of a new report just released by the nonprofit think tank Great Valley Center. State of the Great Central Valley: The Economy (Third Edition) provides a statistical snapshop of the 19-county region stretching from Bakersfield to Redding. The report examines the Central Valley's economic health with 21 indicators organized under five general categories: population, income, and housing; business vitality; agriculture; transportation; and Federal and nonprofit spending. Based on these updated numbers, the GVC offers five broad strategies for improving conditions in the state's inland counties.

Recipients of federal stimulus contracts, grants and loans have begun filing reports on how they are using government funds. These initial reports include the total amount of money received between Feb. 17, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2009, the total amount expended, the number of jobs created or saved, and a description and location of the project. Prime recipients and sub-recipients have filed a total of 112,219 reports, reflecting 8,927 contract awards, 102,901 grants, and 391 loans. 

According to, California received the third largest number of jobs saved/created from federal contracts (2260.05). Detailed information about each contract is available on the government site, but it's difficult to analyze in the aggregate. So the investigative journalism group ProPublica has complied contractor and subcontractor data in two manageable spreadsheets. The categories in these files are somewhat cryptic, but you can browse them by agency and business name, state, city and ZIP code. A cursory look at the Sacramento region shows 31 contract awards totaling some $14.7 million and creating or saving 63.7 jobs.

The Bee's M.S. Enkoji and Phillip Reese report that despite the recession (or maybe because of it), fast-food and coffee chains are doing well in the Sacramento region. They looked closely at five franchises: Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Carls Jr. who collectively have 317 stores in Sacramento County. And through the magic of GIS software, Reese was able to determine the percentage of properties located within two miles of at least one store. The results show a high degree of saturation with the winner being Subway at 91 percent, followed closely behind by Starbucks at 90 percent.

Blogger and artist Stephen Von Worley has done something similar, but on a national scale. He plotted every McDonalds restaurant in the lower 48 states to show there is virtually no place in the country not close to the Golden Arches. You have to go to northwest South Dakota to find the "Mcfarthest Spot" -- 107 miles as the crow flies from any McDonalds (145 miles by car).

Among the Census reports derived form the recent American Community Survey is a look at 2007 earnings by men and women. Nationally, full-time male workers earned median wages of $45,556. Female full-time workers earned $35,471, or 77.9 percent of men's earnings. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, women's median earnings is less than men's. The wage gap varies from 64.3 percent (Wyoming) to 88.0 percent (DC). California has the smallest gap of the 50 states with 84.9 percent.

In the Sacramento region, median earnings for males is $37,258; for females, $28,379. That's a wage gap of 76.1 percent.

Every quarter Brookings issues a report examining the health of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan economies. MetroMonitor considers "trends in metropolitan-level employment, output, and housing conditions to look 'beneath the hood' of national economic statistics to portray the diverse metropolitan trajectories of recession and recovery across the country." Brookings compares and ranks the regions along five parameters: employment, unemployment, Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP), housing prices and real estate owned (foreclosed) properties (REOs). A rank of one signifies the strongest-performing metro economy; 100 siginifies the weakest.

Overall, the Sacramento area ranks 80th in the list. It ranks 86th in change in employment from its peak in the third quarter 2007. And it's 92nd in terms of the number of REOs per 1,000 mortgageable properties. You can see the complete Sacramento profile here.

The economic slump that began in 2008 is apparently depressing parents decisions to have more children. Nationwide, the number of births fell from 2007 to 2008 by nearly 2 percent, according to Centers for Disease Control figures. California's 2.6 percent drop in births exceeded the national average. A CDC table puts California 11th in a list of state declines in births. Nevada leads with a 4.6 percent drop.

A June 2009 survey of workers laid off in the past three months says that 48 percent of them have found new full-time jobs. That's up from 41 percent in March. The study of 921 people who lost jobs during the past 12 months was conducted by the online job site, CareerBuilder. (CareerBuilder is owned in part by The Bee's parent, McClatchy Company.)

Among its other findings:

* Of the workers who found new jobs, 56 percent said they were able to negotiate comparable or higher pay. Forty-four percent of them took a pay cut.

* Twenty percent of those workers got new jobs by relocating to a new city or state.

* Twenty-eight percent of those laid off in the past 12 months have changed their appearance (by dyeing their hair, whitening teeth, losing weight, etc.) to make themselves more attractive to potential employers.

Incidentally, The Bee's interactive database of mass layoffs in California has been updated. About 9,700 firms have given notice in June and July (800 in the Sacramento region). You can search the listings by company name or county/city.

Yesterday the Bee unveiled a very cool interactive map displaying California public projects funded by federal stimulus money. When you click on a county, you get get a list of individual projects, plus a bar chart showing the distribution (in percent) of the money in broad categories (health, education, water, transportation, housing, energy, etc.). In Sacramento, for example, the bulk of the county's $72.1 million is going to education projects.

The data behind this stimulus map comes from the Governor's recovery web site. The latter has its own interactive map, where you can zoom in to see the location of specific projects scattered around the state. For a national perspective, check out the maps available on the federal stimulus site.

Given the state's limping economy and budget problems, it's understandable that Californians continue to be in a sour mood. That's confirmed by the monthly survey conducted by the California Public Policy Institute which tracks opinions about the economic outlook and the "general direction of things" in the state. The PPIC recently updated its two state polls. In June, a survey found 69 percent of adults saying we're in "bad times" economically (24 percent "good times" and 7 percent "don't know"). That negative view has dropped since January when 77 percent cited "bad times" (18 percent "good times" and 5 percent "don't know").

In response to the question about the general direction of things in the state, 70 percent of adults in June said "wrong direction" (19 percent "right direction" and 11 percent "don't know). Likewise the pessimism has fallen since the January poll.

jobless2.jpgThe Bee recently posted a collection of photos illustrating economic challenges in 20 northern California cities with the highest average jobless rate (as measured from November through April). Phillip Reese derived the list from data collected by the state Employment Development Department. If you're interested in delving more into unemployment statistics, check out the EDD's Labor Market Info site. There you'll find current and historical jobless rates for the state, counties, metropolitan regions and cities.


Another sign of the economic times: personal bankruptcy filings for the 12-month period ending March 31, 2009 are up 32.4 percent from 12-month period ending March 31, 2008 (1,153,412 up from 871,186 filings). That's according to the U.S. Courts web site, where you can find a load of bankruptcy stats broken out by region and chapter.

A new study of personal bankruptcies in 2007 by the American Journal of Medicine found that medical debts contributed to 62.1 percent of all filings. About 92 percent of these medical debtors owed over $5,000 in medical billls (or 10 percent of pretax family income). The study looks at the survey data in terms of age, income, family size, insurance status and other factors.

While reporting his story on public employee unions, Bee staff writer Jon Ortiz found a rich source of labor union statistics maintained by a Georgia State University professor. UnionStats compiles data collected the federal government and slices and dices it into a series of accessible spreadsheets. With these you're able to find and sort union membership and union coverage figures broken out by location (state and metro region), sector (private or public), industry and occupation.

Overall, California ranks sixth in the percentage of workers who belong to a union with 18.4 percent. New York leads the states with 24.9 percent. Looking at metro areas within California, the Sacramento MSA is seventh in membership with 25.1 percent. Vallejo-Fairfield is tops with 33.8.

beaches.jpgThe California State Library has a new exhibit, "California Calls You: The Art of Promoting the Golden State, 1870-1940." It showcases colorful posters, booklets, brochures, postcards and other materials that once promoted the state to prospective travelers and residents. The collection may be viewed at the Mead B. Kibbey Gallery, located in the rotunda outside the California History Room, Room 200, 900 N Street, Sacramento. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.

To get a flavor of the exhibit, check out the historic posters displayed on the State Library's Facebook page.



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.

retirement2.JPGAnother sign of the economic doldrums we're in: the percentage of U.S. workers who expect to have enough money to fund a comfortable retirement is the lowest since the question was asked in 1993. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that only 13 percent of employees in its annual Retirement Confidence Survey are "very confident" of such a future. Furthermore, in 2009 only 25 percent say they are very confident they'll have enough money for basic health and living expenses. That's down from 40 percent in the 2007 survey. Of the respondents who lack confidence about their retirements, a majority say they have reduced current expenses and have redirected their investments to address the new economic reality.

EBRI also offers seven related factsheets on worker attitudes toward retirement saving, health costs, Medicare and Social Security, as well as how age and gender differences affect expectations.    

In another sign of the current economic slump, Reuters reports record use of food stamps, the federal program that helps poor people buy groceries. Latest figures show one in ten -- 32.2 million Americans -- receiving food aid. Between December and January U.S. enrollment increased in 46 of the 50 states.

The food stamp program -- now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- is administered by the Agriculture Department. The USDA web site has a repository of historic statistics on SNAP, including figures on benefits and people and households served. One chart displays annual participation, benefit and cost data back to 1969. In 1969, 2.9 million people received food stamps at a cost of $250 million. In 2008, 28.4 million got the stamps at a cost of $37.7 billion. There are also state breakdowns back to 2003. Currently, about 2.5 million Californians (1.1 million California households) participate in SNAP according to the preliminary January 2009 figures.

The federal economic recovery program is the object of intense scrutiny by journalists, taxpayer groups and anyone else concerned with how the federal government is spending $787 billion in stimulus money. But how transparent is the process? The investigative news site, ProPublica, is tracking how well state governments are keeping citizens informed of their use of recovery funds. There's a handy chart with links to each state's stimulus site along with a brief evaluation. Here's what ProPublica thinks of California's online reporting:

California's stimulus site describes the governor's quarterly reporting obligations to Washington, but doesn't offer any additional accountability resources or plans to implement them. Links to state and federal agencies and funding breakdowns by category are available, but there is no information about specific projects.

Indeed, the state's recovery site currently lacks details on programs that will receive stimulus money. But it notes the Governor is required to submit quarterly reports to Congress and the federal granting agency that disclose: 1) How funds will be used; 2) whether funds were used correctly; 3) jobs created/sustained by the funds; and 4) non-federal funding sources used to complete projects. The state promises to post these reports promptly on the web site.

We'll have to see.

March 19, 2009
Historic bankruptcy stats

bankruptcy.jpgThe Bee's Darrell Smith recently reported a 79 percent increase in bankruptcy filings in the Central Valley from 2007 to 2008. The sources of those statistics is the U.S. Eastern District Bankruptcy Court of California, and on its web site you can find quarterly and annual data for all U.S. courts going back to 1983. Twenty-six years ago the number of business and individual filings totalled 374,734 in the United States (11,393 in the Central Valley). In 2008 U.S. courts handled 967,831 filings (24,670 in the Central Valley).



With funds from the federal economic stimulus (aka The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) making their way to the states, policy wonks will be happy to know about a full-text searchable version of the 407-page legislation. Essentially, the bill has been transformed into a text database, which you search by division, title, section, and keyword. With free-text keyword searching, you can use the usual arsenal of research tools, such as Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT), wildcards, proximity, etc.

This resource is provided by askSam, a software company, whose web site features a interesting collection of searchable political and governmental texts. Notable examples: the Patriot Act; Sarbanes-Oxley legislation; 9/11 Commission Report; Mitchell Report on steroids in basball; Samuel Alito and John Roberts confirmation hearing transcripts; Barack Obama speeches 2002-2009; and State of the Union Addresses from 1790 on.  

President Obama today warned state officials to spend their share of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan (Recovery and Reinvestment Act) as wisely as possible. It's still unclear exactly how much money each state will get. But the Center for American Progress has estimated every state's allocation and compared it to their Gross State Products. CAP's color-coded map divides the states into three groups according to the allocation's percent of GSP (under 3.5 percent, 3.5-4.5 percent and over 4.5 percent). California is in the mddle tier. The estimated state funding levels have also been compared to population. On a per capita basis, California ranks 18th in projected stimulus spending ($1,760.89). The District of Columbia ranks first ($2,598.07).  

The Bee today launched a cool interactive map showing the increase in home foreclosures in Sacramento County during the second week of January 2005-2009. Click the "start" button and you'll see each foreclosure plotted on the map, giving a vivid picture of which neighborhoods have been hit the hardest over that period. To get a national perspective, check out the New York Fed's dynamic map showing the foreclosure rate (per 1000 housing units) in every state and county in the country. This data is up-to-date as of January of this year.

The Bee also updated its interactive map of unemployment data for all California counties. The counties are color-coded to show which ones have suffered the worst joblessness. For the national outlook, the New York Times posted a new map with jobless data for every county in the United States. The overall pattern is no surprise: the recession -- as measured by job loss -- is severest in the West, Southeast and upper Midwest.

With the stock market dropping yesterday to its lowest point since 1997, it's an opportune moment to look at some online historic information on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), the second-oldest stock market index in the world (the oldest being the Dow Jones Transportation Average). What would become the preeminent market indicator debuted in May 26, 1896. And despite its name, it tracks companies from several sectors, including financial services, techonology, retail and entertainment.

Yahoo! Finance is one place you can get free tabular data on the Dow's daily, weekly and monthly movements back to October 1928. The price chart, which includes the open, high, low, close and volume, is easily downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet format.

For history fans, the Dow Jones Company maintains an impressive web site on the DJIA, complete with a Dow FAQ, trivia, milestone data, component company information and interative timeline. The timeline is essentially a fever chart of Dow prices annotated with brief commentaries on the historical events that impacted -- and were impacted by -- the stock market. Worth looking with.  

Congress is working out the final details of a $789 billion plan to jump-start the nation's economy, which is intended to save between 3-4 million jobs. More than 10 percent of those jobs could come to California. The Obama Administration won't predict how much money would go to individual states, but guesses that 90 percent of the new jobs would come out of the private sector.

Stimulus Watch is a non-governmental web site whose mission is "to help the new administration keep its pledge to invest stimulus money smartly, and to hold public officials to account for the taxpayer money they spend." It does this by databasing information about "shovel ready" projects that have been proposed by local governments. These projects are not part of the current recovery legislation, but might be candidates for federal funding once the bill passes. What Stimulus Watch asks of readers is to examine projects that interest them and to vote and/or comment about their value on the site.

You call up local projects by browsing for a particular city/state, federal program or general keyword. The search results include a project description, cost, number of jobs created and the reader votes (up or down). There are currently 30 Sacramento proposals that would generate a total of 8,875 jobs at a total of $2.8 billion. The most popular idea is the $150 million "Folsom dam raise and early release improvements". The least popular proposal is a $500 million affordable housing plan by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.

Bee data guy Phillip Reese has posted a series of charts showing the fastest growing and fastest shrinking job sectors in the Sacramento 4-county region. Not unexpectedly, the growth areas are in healthcare and education. The sectors hemoraging the most jobs are construction, retail, food service, banking and car sales.

Reese gleaned this data from the California Employment Development Department web site, which is well endowed with labor market information that's easy to access (including stats on unemployment, wages, prices, taxable sales, layoffs, occupations, as well as industries). The EDD has an online interactive database by which you can customize searches of industry sector job numbers. The system takes you through a series of drop-down lists where you modify the results by geography (state, MSA and county), time period (monthly or yearly back to 1990) and specific industry. What you get is a table showing the number of job for the desired time period, places and industries. The table can be downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet for further massaging. 

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

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.

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.

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.

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). 

December 23, 2008
Numbers in the news

Journalists love statistics. They inject precision, clarity and reality into news stories. Or do they? Author Michael Blastland thinks numbers in the news -- especially really big numbers cited by politicians and the press -- often do more to confuse than enlighten. He observes in a recent interview on the NPR show On the Media:

"I think the problem with that number [$700 billion for the bailout] and a lot of the numbers that are hurtling around at the moment about the American economy is that they just have a heck of a lot of zeroes on the end, and probably most people's facility with numbers disappears as soon as they get to something bigger than their mortgage."

Blastland calls on journalists to explain statistics so they can be understood. For example, it's easier to relate to $700 billion if you express it as about $2,000 for every person in the country. Does that seem like a big burden for each citizen to carry? Blastland asks you to consider that obligation in comparison to the per capita size of the U.S. economy, which is $50,000.

Putting numbers in context sounds like good advice for the media to follow. 

Michael Blastland is co-author of The Numbers Game: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life. He also co-authored the commentary, "The worst junk stats of 2007," a Times of London piece on the the most dubious numbers of the year.

Today the Federal Reserve suprised experts by dropping its key interest rate to a record range of zero to a quarter percent. The plunge in the Federal Funds Rate is their attempt to loosen credit and jump-start the ailing economy.

The current situation is a far cry from May 1981 when the Fed raised the credit benchmark to a soaring 20 percent as national bankers struggled to get inflation under control. Here's a handy table showing every change in the Federal Funds Rate from 1971 to the present.


Conventional wisdom would say that college graduates will have an increasingly difficult time finding jobs in the coming years. But a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California concludes that the demand for college-educated workers will outpace the state's capacity to produce them. "California's Future Workforce: Will There Be Enough College Graduates?" predicts that by 2025 the economy will require a bachelor's degree of 41 percent of state's potential employees. At the same time the growth in the percentage of college graduates is expected to slow and the number of workers with a high school diploma or less schooling will exceed demand. The result will be an education gap that will limit California's economic growth and increase social and economic inequality. The study's author calls on state leaders to invest in education now -- even in the face of the current fiscal crisis.

Incidentally, the Public Policy Institute of California is "a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues." An endowment from William R. Hewlett established the PPIC in 1994. 

Today's grim business news is the loss of 533,000 jobs in November. That's the worst monthly drop in 34 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But how do these figures compare to earlier years? Using historic non-farm payroll data, we see five larger monthly declines since January 1939. They are:

Sept. 1945 -1,966,000
Oct. 1949 -834,000
July 1956 -629,000
Dec. 1974 -602,000
Feb. 1946 -589,000

Those post-war numbers are worse than they appear, considering the U.S. workforce was much smaller than today. So I suppose we should count our blessings. (I think.)

grocery.JPGIt's counterintuitive. Just as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting a record monthly drop in the Consumer Price Index, The Bee's Jim Downing writes that groceries for Thanksgiving dinner will cost cooks 5.6 percent more over last year. But such is the roller coaster nature of the current U.S. economy.

The CPI, the government's index of inflation, fell a whole percentage point from September to October. (Analysts expected a 0.8 percent decline driven by a decrease in energy prices.) That monthly drop is the biggest since publication of these statistics began in February 1947. You can see the complete monthly percent change chart (1947-date) on the BLS web site.

So guess which month shows the biggest hike in the CPI. Did you think sometime in 1973, when the nation reeled from the Middle East energy crisis? Good call. The 1.8 percent leap in August 1973 ties with February 1951 for the top monthly change.

Thumbnail image for OpenGov.jpg

The U.S. plan to address the crisis in the credit industry is shrouded in too much secrecy. So says a coalition of groups dedicated to transparency in government. 

"Any credible solution to today's economic crisis must address one of the crisis' fundamental causes - corruption and other abuses of power sustained by secrecy. Unfortunately, thus far the government has been slow to let the public know how it is using taxpayer money to help out ailing financial markets," asserts, which opposes provisions in the bailout legislation allowing the Treasury Department to withhold details of the plan. has set up a clearinghouse of information on the effort to bring transparency to the bailout process. The web page includes links to resources, news and the latest actions by the coalition.

Listed among the 74 member organizations are Common Cause, American Library Association, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, American Society of Newspaper Editors, League of Women Voters and Society of Professional Journalists. 

Unemployment hit a national 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October. The rate last rose to that level in March 1994. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the source for historic U.S. employment data back to 1948.

The jobless rate in California surged to 7.7 percent in September (latest data available). The last time it was that high was in March 1996. Likewise, Sacramento County's unemployment hit 7.7 percent in September. The last time it got, that high was in January 1994, when it peaked at 8.4 percent. The California Department of Emploment Development web site provides a searchable database of historic labor force data for the state and its counties (1976 to current).

October 27, 2008
Long-term gas price data

GASPRICE.JPGNationally, the average price of regular gas tumbled nearly 53 cents in the past two weeks, hitting $2.78 on Friday, according to the latest Lundberg Survey. On Monday the average price dropped to $2.98 in the Sacramento region, though the $3 barrier had been broken at many service stations for several days.

AAA provides price data going back a year for the nation, state and metro areas. Included are charts showing the average price of retail and wholesale gas, as well as of crude oil. You can find 24-month charts of gasoline and diesel prices for the nation and multi-state regions on the web site of the federal Energy Information Administration, a rich source of statistics on all types of energy. The EIA also has data comparing the retail cost of gasoline in United States with other industrialized countries for the period 1990-2007.

Closer to home, there are two good online places to find the cheapest gas in your neighborhood: AAA Gas Price Finder and Gas Buddy . Both let you search by zip code and will display a map pointing to individual service stations. Sacto Gas Prices lists the best prices in the region for the various grades of gasoline. 

Thumbnail image for stockmarket.JPGThe current financial slump is a complicated mess to understand. Derivatives, credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities, toxic assets -- it's a mind-boggling collection of dominoes falling into one another. You have to wonder who or what is to blame?

But step back a bit, and you see one thing lurking at every level of the crisis. As former Business Week financial editor Wight Martindale observed, "The problem is that we all have too much debt." Individual, corporate and government debt -- debt that can't be repaid.

So collectively, how much does the nation actually owe, if you include all the private and public indebtedness out there? The Federal Reserve tracks total debt for the country. This chart shows outstanding debt broken out by household, business, government and financial sectors starting back in 1974. The figures aren't adjusted for inflation, but you still get a picture of the explosive growth in debt. In 1974, the total outstanding debt was $2.1 trillion. As of second quarter 2008, it was $32.4 trillion. Adjusted for inflation, the total U.S. debt has grown about 350 percent since 1974.   


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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