The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

February 28, 2011
Public Eye: Have local fans already abandoned Kings?

Since 2009, no other NBA team has seen fewer fans come to home games than the Sacramento Kings.

Only three other teams in major professional sports -- the NHL's Thrashers, Coyotes and NY Islanders -- posted average attendance at home games during that period lower than the Kings.

Most NFL teams drew more total fans to their regular season games during 2009 and 2010 than the NBA's Kings -- even though NFL teams only play eight home games, albeit in much larger stadiums. No NHL or MLB team drew fewer total fans to home games during 2009 and 2010 than the Kings.

A lot of that comes down to the Kings recent losing ways, which arguably fall at the feet of decisions made by the team's owners. But if you owned the Kings, would you stay in a town showing the following attendance trend line?

Sources: databaseBasketball; ESPN

February 28, 2011
The unionized workforce, some national and state statistics

The battle in Wisconsin over proposed curbs on public-sector bargaining puts a spotlight on the organized labor in general.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released last month, U.S. union membership has declined steadily over the past three decades, dropping from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 11.9 percent in 2010. Last year, public-sector unionization far exceeded that in the private-sector, 36.2 percent to 6.9 percent.

On the state level, 2010 union membership ranged from 3.2 percent in North Carolina to 24.2 percent in New York. California is fifth with 17.5 percent of wage and salary workers belonging to a labor union.

California has defied the national trend by showing an increase in membership rate from 15.5 percent in 2000 to 17.5 percent in 2010. In comparison the U.S. rate fell from 13.4 percent to 11.9 percent over that period.

February 24, 2011
Metro GDP data shows recession's targets

New data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows vividly the toll the recession has taken on urban areas. Overall, U.S. metropolitan areas experienced a 2.4 percent fall in real GDP in 2009 after dropping 0.4 percent in 2008. (Real GDP is adjusted for inflation.) Declines occurred in 80 percent of the nation's 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

U.S. metro GDP peaked in 2007. For all industries, the percent change in real GDP from 2007 to 2009 was -2.9 percent. The hardest hit sectors were construction (-20.63), accommodation and food service (-14.40), non-durable good manufacturing (-13.82) and leisure and hospitality (-13.07).

The Sacramento MSA was hit harder than the country as a whole. Its GDP fell -5.16 percent from 2007-09. The biggest losers were construction (-27.60), accommodation and food service (-18.45), leisure and hospitality (-15.91), retail trade (-14.52).

You can easily compile your own GDP tables for any metro area, by using BEA's online interactive database.

February 22, 2011
Study: hearing loss a significant problem for the middle-aged

The relatively high prevalence of hearing loss among seniors is no surprise, but a new study published in the latest Archives of Otolaryngology indicates the problem is significant among middle-aged adults, 45-54.

Researchers tested the hearing of some 3,300 adults ranging in age from 21 to 84. Overall, 14.1 percent were found to have some level of impairment. According to the study, hearing loss tends to increase with age:

21-34 -- 2.9 percent
35-44 -- 6.4 percent
45-54 -- 10.9 percent
55-64 -- 25.1 percent
65-84 -- 42.7 percent

In addition to age, other correlates to hearing impairment include noisy employment environment, lower educational level, being male, ear surgery history and diminished blood vessel health.

February 16, 2011
Latest CDC annual report on the nation's health

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today released its 34th annual report to Congress on the nation's state of health. Health, United States, 2010: With Special Feature on Death and Dying is a large compendium of statistics on disease, mortality and medical care.

Among the report's highlights:

* Heart disease continued to be the leading cause of death in 2007, accounting for 25 percent of all deaths. Cancer followed closely behind with 23 percent.

* Between 2000 and 2007, life expectancy rose 1.3 years for males (to 75.4) and 1.1 years for females (to 80.4).

* The prevalence of obesity increased in all age groups over the past two decades. About 33 percent of adults over the age of 20 were obese in the period 2007-08.

* The percent of adults who smoke cigarettes has stayed flat at 21 percent for several years.

* Total visits to hospitals and doctors' offices increased from 861,000 in 1995 to 1.2 million in 2008. The number of visits per 100 persons rose from 329 to 405 over the same period.

* In 2007 health care spending accounted for 16 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (compared to 11 percent in France). Between 1990 and 2008, per capita health expenditures rose $2,814 to $7,681 (in current dollars).

February 16, 2011
Sacramento vs. Detroit: Who has more misery?

Lots of ink has already been spilled about Forbes ranking Sacramento as the fifth most miserable city in America earlier this month. Marcos Breton talked about how the ranking ignored some of the city's finer points; Ryan Lillis noted how other ranking lists disagree with Forbes' conclusion.

When you dig into the data, though, the only way Sacramento can possibly be one of the most miserable cities in America is if you equate misery with unemployment and foreclosures. By most other measures, Sacramento ranks way ahead of a lot of cities Forbes considers happier.

To illustrate that, here's a chart comparing Sacramento to two Rust Belt cities Forbes says are much less miserable than Sacramento: Detroit and Buffalo.

.

MeasureSacramentoDetroitBuffalo

.

Unemployment Rate12.511.18.2

.

Median Household Income$47,107$26,098$29,285

.

Adults with Bachelor's Degree30%12%23%

.

Poverty Rate19%36%29%

.

Median Home Sales Price$205,000$87,000$107,000

.

Percentage of Days with Sunshine78%53%48%

.

Obese Adults29%34%26%

.

Residents Who Own Homes48%54%44%

.

Homeowners Paying 1/2 Income on Mortgage14%16%7%

.

Murder Rate (per 100,000 residents)6.440.222.3

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; CDC; NOAA; Wells Fargo; FBI

February 15, 2011
American consumers continue to pay down their debt

Aggregate U.S. consumer debt -- which reached a peak of $12.5 trillion in 2008Q3 -- has been steadily falling. In its newest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, the Federal Reserve of New York says total consumer indebtedness dropped to $11.4 trillion as of Dec. 31, suggesting that Americans are getting a better handle on their finances.

Total mortgage debt -- by far the largest part of family borrowing -- declined 9.1 percent from its peak in 2008Q3. Debt from home equity lines of credit also fell, 6.5 percent from its peak in 2009Q1.

The NY Fed estimates that 211 million credit accounts closed during 2010, compared to the 164 million that opened during the same period. The number of open credit card accounts fell 23 percent in 2010Q4 from its high in 2008Q2.

Debt delinquency rates have also been dropping. At the end of 2010, 10.8 percent of loans were in some stage of delinquency, compared to 11.1 percent at the end of the third quarter and 12.0 percent at the end of 2009.

Hat tip: The Washington Post.

February 10, 2011
PPIC: slight majority of Californians support Obamacare

Californians support the national health care reform bill by a margin of 51 to 36 percent. That's one of the findings of a state survey of health-related issues by the Public Policy Institute of California.

PPIC also reports that overall 81 percent of Californians judged their own health as "good," "very good" or "excellent." But there are significant demographic differences in that perception. Respondents were more likely to rate their health as "fair" or "poor," if they are low income, have less education, lack health insurance or are a member of a minority group.

Those surveyed generally rated local health and medical services as "good" or "excellent." But when asked if local services struck the balance between treatment and prevention, 60 percent wanted more focus on prevention.

Read the full report here.

February 8, 2011
Smoking shown a lot in TV shows popular with teens

A study published yesterday in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine finds substantial depictions of tobacco use in television programs with high teen viewership.

Researchers examined more than 70 episodes of prime-time shows like Family Guy and Gossip Girl and found 40 percent of them contained at least one instance of smoking, mostly of cigarettes. Fox lead the networks with 44 percent, followed by CBS with 41 percent.

All these episodes were rated TV-PG and TV-14 (the more stringent rating). Surprisingly, more TV-PG episodes showed smoking (50 percent) than ones rated TV-14 (26 percent).

The study was conducted by Legacy, a public interest group dedicated to reducing tobacco use by people of all ages.

Hat tip: Los Angeles Times Booster Shots blog.

February 5, 2011
Interactive: The California PHD Gender Gap

California universities award close to 50 percent of doctoral degrees to women, but there are still huge gender differences in what the state's brightest students choose to study. Women still lag in engineering and the sciences, with the exception of biology. Men continue to largely shun study of languages and psychology.

The below chart shows the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women by California universities during 2008, the most recent year for which complete data is available.

Source: California Postsecondary Education Commission

February 4, 2011
Californians keep playing lottery even after losing job

Despite losing their jobs, tens of thousands of Californians have stuck to their lottery habit. In fact, the proportion of lottery players who are unemployed has grown even faster than the proportion of the population without a job.

One reason for this is likely some recent, huge jackpots. Plus, even more than others, the unemployed might relish a $2 chance to solve all their monetary problems.


Source: California State Lottery, Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports.

February 3, 2011
Survey: adults often get unnecessary heart screening tests

Recently this blog noted a CDC study that found many Americans with hypertension and high cholesterol --risk factors for heart disease -- are not receiving proper treatment. Of course proper treatment is based on early discover for these conditions and accordingly doctors do recommend regular blood pressure and cholesterol screening tests.

But according to a Consumer Reports survey, many individuals are seeking and getting additional tests that experts say are unnecessary, even harmful, for adults with low or normal risk for heart disease. The CR poll shows 44 percent of healthy people getting ill-advised screenings, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP), and an exercise stress test.

To help you understand the appropriateness of various tests, CR provides a free online health calculator which takes factors such as age, gender, BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol level, and figures your overall risk of heart problems. Then you can consult a handy table listing each test, its benefits, liabilities, costs and who should get it, based on age, gender and disease risk.

February 1, 2011
Most people with hypertension and high cholesterol aren't properly treated

High blood pressure and cholesterol are major risk factors for heart attacks, strokes and related diseases, which kill more than 800,000 Americans annually. Despite the relative low-cost and effectiveness of treatment, the majority of people with these conditions aren't getting proper care, reports the Centers for Disease Control in a new report.

Individuals lacking health insurance are most likely to lack treatment. But even among those who are insured, many aren't controlling their hypertension and cholesterol adequately.

By the numbers:

High Blood Pressure
1 in 3 Adults has high blood pressure
1 in 3 Adults with high blood pressure does not get treatment
1 in 2 Adults with high blood pressure does not have it under control
High Cholesterol
1 in 3 Adults has high cholesterol
1 in 2 Adults with high cholesterol does not get treatment
2 in 3 Adults with high cholesterol do not have it under control



About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at: fraudsquad@sacbee.com.

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