Browsing the archives for the Uncategorized category.

A weak tide, that’s not lifting all boats: median household income in the Unites States then and now

Uncategorized

From 1984-1986 up through 2010-2012, the US Census Bureau maintained three-year average data on median household incomes by state, as part of its Annual Social and Economic Supplement. To see how even, or uneven, the growth in that median income has been from state to state, I decided to take that first and last data point and compare the changes. Which states progressed the most – and which the least?

The result is this chart ‒ you’ll need click to enlarge, otherwise you won’t see much (and here is the data as PDF). Size of the bubbles represents 2010 population size.

Chart: Median household income by state, in 1984-1986 and 2010-2012

Click to enlarge: Median household income by state then and now

My interest in this data related primarily to the discussions about stagnating middle class wages in the US; over the years I’ve seen the subject come up time and again that especially male, middle or working class individuals, and most especially those working in manufacturing, are hardly or no better off now than they were in the mid- or late 1970s. This US Census Bureau data set about median household incomes doesn’t quite confirm that, but the national growth it does show, in inflation-adjusted dollars, between 1984-1986 and 2010-2012 is hardly impressive: an anemic 6.2% in 26 years. In addition it should probably be kept in mind that the data set only starts out after the depression of the early 1980s and some 5 years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, which coincided with a rapid increase in income inequality.

The list of the states with the lowest median household income in 2010-2012 was not surprising: starting at the bottom, it’s Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina. Montana has the lowest median household income outside the South, whereas West Virginia, perhaps surprisingly, is only the ninth-poorest state by this measure.

The comparison with the ranking and proportions 26 years earlier yields some surprises. In no fewer than six states, the median household income was higher then, than it is now. In an additional five states, the median household income in 2010-12 is at most $1000 higher (in 2012 CPI-U-RS adjusted dollars). These near-dozen states include:

  • Three midwestern states with lots of (former) industry, as you’d expect: Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Ohio suffered the deepest cuts of the Lower 48, with a median household income that was 7.9% lower in 2010-12 than in 1984-86. Michigan, too, ended up with an actual decrease in median household incomes.
  • Three states in the southwest: California, Nevada and Arizona. Maybe the influx of Latino immigrants, many of whom now survive on low wages, is dragging the median down? Nevada now has a lower median household income than in the mid-80s.
  • Two states in the Deep South (Louisiana and South Carolina); as well as Kansas, Alaska, and Hawaii. Alaska was down the most of all states, actually, though even now it still ranks in the top 10.

The states where median wages in 2010-12 were at least $8,000 higher than 26 years earlier include:

  • In the BosWash corridor, New Hampshire and Maryland. Those two states have ended up with the highest median wages of the country (booming exurbs?). But the largest growth of all the U.S., at +$15,714 and +35.1%, was in Washington DC, which has transformed unrecognizably since Marion Barry’s glory days and the crack epidemic.
  • North Dakota ‒ location of a remarkable oil boom ‒ has seen the nation’s second largest growth in median household income: +$12,385 or +28.6%. Nearby Wyoming also benefits from its flourishing extractive industries, as well as the growth in tourism. (In comparison, it’s striking that Alaska’s median income is down by so much, considering that it’s another state whose economy is disproportionally dependent on oil, gas and mining.)
  • Elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, however, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa also all saw well above-average growth in median household incomes. I’m grasping for explanations here, but maybe that has involved the tail end of the long process in which small family farms died out (and the farmers’ sons and daughters moved to the city) and were replaced by large-scale, prosperous agro-industrial farms?
  • Washington state (Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon and/or Starbucks?) … as well as West-Virginia. Which surprised me. West-Virginia had the second-lowest median wages of the nation in ’84-86, ahead of only Mississippi; now it has the ninth-lowest, higher than states like Montana and Tennessee.

The above visualization is the result of generating a bubble chart within Google Spreadsheets, and then processing it in GIMP to add the diagonal line and labels, as well as to pull apart the labels for individual states where the Google chart had superimposed them over each other.

For an automatically generated alternative, I also tried using TableauPublic, and the resulting chart looks a lot more sleek: Median Household Income by State, 1984-196 vs. 2010-2012. It lacks explanatory labeling and a diagonal line to help you orient yourself though. The program is free, but if you’re using it for the first time it takes a bit of figuring out ‒ you’re really going to need the instructions. Once you get a grasp on the basics, though, a chart like this is extremely easy to create.

I found maps a little more complicated to make in TableauPublic, especially compared with using the “geomap” option when creating charts in Google Spreadsheets. But since the Google Geomap won’t show on this blog, I did it anyway. Here are the maps showing the data on median household income by state in 1984-1986, in 2010-2012, and the difference between those two years. I’m afraid Alaska and Hawaii got cut off (another reason to prefer Google Spreadsheets’ geomap, where they are neatly scaled and repositioned to fit into a simple U.S. view), though you should still be able to use the zoom functions to reveal them.

Comparing the maps, it seems to me that the contrast between the BosWash corridor and the surrounding country has grown only more pronounced. You can clearly see the relative decline of the industrial Midwest. The South remains the worst off, as the TableauPublic bubble chart illustrates well too, though the poorest Southern states are also the ones that have caught up with the others the most – with states like Alabama, Tennessee and West-Virginia catching up with the Carolinas and Louisiana. The West remains a bit of a patchwork, meanwhile, with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, blessed with higher median household incomes, putting some distance between themselves and Montana, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

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Knowing What I Don’t Know

Culture, Media / journalism, Politics, Uncategorized

Something interesting happened over the course of the 2008 presidential campaign. I have always been interested in current events and politics, and have always read the New York Times daily and The New Yorker weekly. I’ve usually supplemented those sources from here and there, CNN maybe, or my local newspaper. But I’ve felt reasonably well-informed based on those two publications.

During the campaign, for both professional reasons and simply because I was personally very interested, I branched way out from there. In the earliest days, (circa late 2005/ early 2006), I’d simply search for “Obama” in Google News and see what there was to see. As I did so, certain sites kept coming up — Lynn Sweet’s blog, Andrew Sullivan’s blog, the Chicago Tribune’s blog, Talking Points Memo, First Read, and more. As things heated up and a general search for “Obama” would yield way too many hits on Google News to be useful, I started to cycle through those sites in addition to the Big Two (NYT and The New Yorker).

No single news source turned out to be the one that had all the answers. But cumulatively, all of this reading gave me a lot of accurate information. Various ideas I formed based on that information were borne out — I was able to correctly predict many elements of the campaign, from whether Obama was indeed a viable candidate (in the very earliest days) to whether he would be able to get the Latino vote in a general election, to how Obama would fare against McCain in a head-to-head debate (back when such an outcome seemed unlikely), to what effect Sarah Palin would have on McCain’s campaign (the fact that my predictions tended to be pretty good was part of why I was interested in starting this blog; unfortunately, by that time, only the tail end of my Sarah Palin predictions made it here).

By the time of the election, I was ready to take a break from the information overload. (Me and everyone else who had followed this incredibly dramatic and incredibly information-rich campaign.) I figured my interest would return at some point after I had given myself a bit of a break.

My interest did return, but I faced something I didn’t expect. Because I was so extensive in my research and reading during the campaign, I now know that my usual sources offer some but not all of the story — or worse, offer what is purported to be the full story but is actually fatally skewed. I was repeatedly very annoyed with sloppy reporting from the New York Times during the campaign — that means that while I have always read news items with a jaded eye, my eye is much more jaded yet, to the point that I don’t feel I “know” anything that I’ve read in the NYT — it’s merely a starting point. The New Yorker is much, much better from my perspective — my bullshit sensors are tripped by their reporting far less. But they tend to choose relatively narrow subjects that they then plumb in-depth. I feel like I “know” what’s going on with something that they plumb, but at the expense of breadth. There are plenty of things I’m curious about that they don’t plumb.

So I’m faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that unless I do my extensive trawling again, I don’t really know what’s going on. I have the broad outlines. I have a variety of opinions.

That’s not enough.

This leaves me a bit in limbo when it comes to writing something about politics. It feels lazy to just ask the questions. It feels daunting to go in search of all the answers, so that I “know” something to the same level that I did during the campaign.

It’s an interesting exercise, though, a good wake-up call re: journalism and fallibility thereof. This knowledge that while I may read a lot about current events, the truth takes so much work to find. While I think the idea that blogs will take over from newspapers is problematic (another post, perhaps), I do think this is a service that blogs provide — going deep, doing the research, and providing other information rather than leaving it all to the major newspapers. The New York Times is far from worthless, but the New York Times PLUS my long list of daily blog reads during the campaign provided far more, and more accurate, information to me than the New York Times alone.

So now I read my New York Times every day, and think… “really?”

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What I Want to See from Rush

Economy, Politics, Uncategorized, US Economy, US Politics

Rush LImbaugh has been crowned the leader of the Republican Party by the Democrats and to the humor of all, his fellow Republicans have kind of completed coronation.  So how should Rush use his new found power?  It’s clear that there is a void at the top of the Republican party and Rush has a large bully pulpit, so what should he do?  I have an idea for you Rush.

First, recognize that all those who try to speak for the Republican Party on the stimulus all have one thing in common:  They are completely unqualified to speak about the economy in general and our current crisis in particular.  Not that the Democratic congressmen and senators are any better, because they aren’t.  On one side of this crisis, you have Obama’s administration consulting with the best economists money can buy.  One the other side, you have … what, a bunch of politicans looking to profit from being in the opposition?  People who want Obama to fail?  This is not going to work for you.

Once you understand that these people, your subjects, don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s time to take on the administration.  Put together your team of reputable economists and present your own plan!  I’m sure you can find a group of economists who are not confident about the administration’s plan to sit around a table, put together a comprehensive theory of what is happening and how we can mitigate the crisis and then propose a solution that is different than what the administration has proposed.  The economists would probably do it for free just for the press!  Armed with a counter proposal,  your minions in government would be in a position to ask for changes in the stimulus package instead of futilely cursing the Democrats.  This is your chance to lead Rush.  What are you going to do with it?

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Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face

Economy, education, Politics, Uncategorized, US Economy, US Politics

It seems like a new Republican mantra has broken free from the dark corridors where is was previously consigned to furtive whispers: they want Obama to fail.  I understand that Obama is pushing for many policies that don’t fit with the Republican party line, but how can you want him to fail?  What does an Obama failure look like for the United States?  Unemployment over 10%?  Numerous failures in the US manufacturing sector?  Significant erosion in the soft power of the US, much of which stems from our economic position in the world?  Is that what Republicans are hoping for?  How can a Republican congressman go back to his or her constituents and defend this position?  The governor of South Carolina has gone so far as to say he wants to use S.C.’s share of the stimulus money to pay down South Carolina’s debts instead of trying to create new jobs.  Since South Carolina’s unemployment rate is 10.4%, the second highest in the nation, you might think that the governor would decide to create more jobs, but even as the state is furloughing teachers and moving to larger class sizes, Governor Stanford is turning away help for politics.

Continue Reading »

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Finding Humor in Porn Statistics

Uncategorized

A little humor from the folks at the Journal of Economic Perspectives.  OK, they don’t mean it has humor.  Their article “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” is a serious work looking at the various socioeconomic factors driving pornography consumption or as they say:

For economists, the adult entertainment industry offers several aspects of
interest. On the production side, for example, the adult entertainment industry has
repeatedly proven to be among the first to adopt new imaging technologies. For
example, Johnson (1996) concludes that adult videos spurred early purchases of
home video cassette recorders. More recently, as studios evaluated competing
high-definition DVD formats HD-DVD and Blu-ray, at least some studios chose
Blu-ray upon observing that adult studios favored that format (Mearian, 2006).
Looking back, adult entertainment was an early adopter of a wide variety of
image-related technologies—including ancient sculpture (Diver, 2005), the book
(Moulton, 2000), and the photograph (Loth, 1961).

Still, it’s not hard to find humor in the reams of data contained in the report.  The top state in Internet porn subscriptions per broadband user:  Utah.  Numbers two and three: Alaska and Mississippi.  Those are really red states consuming all that porn.  OK, Hawaii comes in at number four, but then comes Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota and Louisiana.  See any pattern there?  Maybe those blue state folks are just better at finding free porn. 

Continue Reading »

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Moving house

Uncategorized
Image used under CC license from augustusoz

Image used under CC license from augustusoz

Excuse the brief administrative intermezzo, but I am moving blogs. From now on, you can find me blogging on a day-to-day basis at Cogitamus.

To kick things off there, I posted an updated analysis of how the stimulus bill is polling – and what may explain the differences in results between different polls on the question.

If you tended to enjoy my posts here, do by all means keep reading Observationalism, but consider adding Cogitamus to your feed as well!

I’ll surely still drop in here for the occasional guest post, and Observationalism will continue to offer the rapier wit of Joefromchicago, the keen observations of Engineer, and the insightful posts of the others.

I’ve had a lot of fun here getting into blogging for the first time; I’m glad my peers at Observationalism created the opportunity to do so!

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Cartoonist Makes a Monkey out of New York Post

Uncategorized

As Sigmund Freud might say: sometimes, a chimp is just a chimp.

Sean Delonas, editorial cartoonist for the New York Post, stirred up a hornet’s nest of criticism when, on February 18, the Post published this cartoon:

Now, to those who may be viewing this cartoon years from today, this cartoon is, no doubt, absolutely inexplicable, so some explanation is necessary.  See, there was a lady in Connecticut whose pet chimp Travis went on a rampage and seriously injured a neighbor who had been called over to subdue it.  Police were called to the scene and they shot Travis dead.  Two days later, Delonas draws a cartoon that links the chimp shooting (still in the news — remember, this is the New York Post we’re dealing with here) and the financial stimulus package proposed by President Obama and passed by congress on February 17.

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Annals of Scientific “I Thought So!”s: Recess

education, Uncategorized, US culture

Some people get annoyed when a scientific study goes and proves something that seems obvious. I love it. I find it very satisfying somehow — I don’t have the capability to go and do original research on all of this stuff, so it’s fun when someone else does the hard work and I get to say “I thought so!”

Here‘s the latest:

Children who misbehave at school are often punished by being kept inside at recess. But new research shows that recess helps solve behavioral problems in class.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reviewed data on about 11,000 third graders, collected in 2002 as part of a large study, financed by the Education Department, to determine how an array of family, school, community and individual factors affected performance in school.

The study, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, found that about one in three of the children received fewer than 15 minutes of daily recess or none at all. Compared with children who received regular recess, the children cooped up during the day were more likely to be black, to come from low-income and less educated families and to live in large cities.

Children who had at least 15 minutes of recess scored better than the others on teachers’ behavioral ratings. Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Albert Einstein, said the data were important because many new schools were being built without adequate outdoor space for students.

“We need to understand that kids need a break,” Dr. Barros said. “Our brains can concentrate and pay attention for 45 to 60 minutes, and in kids it’s even less. For them to be able to acquire all the academic skills we want them to learn, they need a break to go out and release the energy and play and be social.”

This has been kind of a bugbear for me. When my daughter was in kindergarten, there was no recess at ALL. They were supposed to have recess but they didn’t because it was half-day kindergarten and they had so much to fit into their brief day. (The fact that kindergarten has become the new first grade is another bugbear but I’ll save that for another time.) They just didn’t have as much time to socialize as I thought they needed, and even though they were there for only a few hours, it was a pretty intense time.

Since she’s started all-day grade school, though, I have noticed a definite correlation between behavior and recess. They normally have two recesses of about half an hour each, but they don’t if the outside temperature goes below 20 degrees. We’ve had a lot of that, which means a lot of “indoor recess,” and a lot more behavior problems. While taking a break and socialization are big parts of why recess is important, just plain running around and burning off energy is another huge part of it.

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Shoe-Throwing Taking World By Storm!

International Politics, Uncategorized

The shoe. Look at the big honkin' sole on that thing!

Well, a bit of hyperbole. (That’s the fun thing about titles. Tailor-made for hyperbole.)

I do remember thinking when that Iraqi guy did it that it was the sort of simple-but-obvious thing that was likely to be replicated. What, are they going to make everyone take their shoes off at any sort of public event? (“They” being anyone who is in the business of protecting a high-up muckety-muck who faces a possibly disgruntled public.) Make everyone wear Crocs?

Now it’s happened again — a student threw his shoe at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday. The shoe landed “several meters away.”

I had originally thought that this happened in China and that the thrower was Chinese, and actually stopped at this point in my draft last night because I suddenly worried what would happen to the thrower. I read about it this morning, though, and evidently the whole thing happened in England (a speech at Cambridge University) and it’s unclear what nationality the thrower was but he may have been German.

Evidently the Chinese media doesn’t want to give anyone any ideas, though — for a while, they left out the shoe-throwing from accounts of the speech. Chinese blogs went ahead and talked about it, leading (?) the media to break its silence.

Go blogs.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed official displeasure: “Facts show the troublemaker who conducted this mean act is not accepted by the public, and he will not stop the trend of a developing friendly relationship between China and Britain.”

“Mean”?

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Still Not Used to an Articulate President

Politics, Uncategorized, US Economy, US Politics

I just watched Barack Obama’s chat with Matt Lauer before the Super Bowl. It appeared to be live — there were technical difficulties for example that presumably wouldn’t have happened in a taped segment, and some awkward camera cuts. Obama was funny, warm, and serious as called for and didn’t miss a beat when Lauer asked some gotcha-ish questions.

Nothing too deep of course — for example, Lauer asked Obama to face the camera and justify his preference for a national college football playoff to Floridians (whose Gators won the BCS Championship game). “Twenty-seven electoral votes,” Lauer kept saying. Obama smilingly found the camera and delivered his defense; “Congrats Gators, on an outstanding season. … Wouldn’t you feel better if you had beaten every team through a playoff system?”

There was more substance too, especially in terms of talking about the economy and the stimulus package. Obama made it clear that things are going to continue to get worse for several months, and then it would take a while after that before things got back “on track.” But he was full of reassurance, full of confidence that things WILL get back on track.

Throughout he was comfortable and smooth. It’s not solving the health care crisis or creating peace in the middle east, but it was still nice to see. (Right! A brain! Excellent.)

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Obama and STYX?

Culture, Music, Politics, Uncategorized, US Politics

So I was listening to some 70′s era rock this weekend and came across a STYX song written for the Bicentennial.  STYX was known to include a political song here and there on their albums, but this one struck me because of how it resonates with President Obama’s inauguration speech.  Maybe the President listened to it when he was a teenager.  OK, it’s not deep, but here are the lyrics for your enjoyment.

Suite Madame Blue
Written by Dennis DeYoung

Time after time I sit and I wait for your call
I know I’m a fool but why can I say
Whatever the price I’ll pay for you, Madame Blue
Once long ago, a word from your lips and the world turned around
But somehow you’ve changed, you’re so far away
I long for the past and dream of the days with you, Madame Blue

Suite Madame Blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Suite Madame Blue, the future is all but past
Dressed in your jewels, you made your own rules
You conquered the world and more …………..heaven’s door

America….America…America..America..
America….America…America..America..
America….America…America..America..

Red white and blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past
So lift up your heart, make a new start
And lead us away from here

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Yeah, But We Have a Black President So Nanny Nanny Boo Boo

Culture, International Politics, Politics, Presidential Elections, Uncategorized, US culture, US Politics

T-shirt made by a bar in Georgia

I’m starting to see Obama being held up as an indication of how advanced America is compared to other countries when it comes to race relations. On the one hand that’s so awesome! Yay us! I do still get this little shock every time I realize that it’s actually true, and what it means.

On the other hand, it’s a bit too easy and pat. The fact that Obama was elected doesn’t mean that America no longer has any problems with race.

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