Bracketology

19 March 2013

Even if you don’t follow NCAA men’s basketball, you’re probably aware that the 2013 NCAA Tourney is upon us. The first round games start tonight, so if you’re planning on filling out a bracket this year, I hope you’ve gotten started.

In the spirit of March Madness, the Census Bureau has developed their own bracketology-themed population game. You should take a few minutes and play a round. It’s pretty fun.

You’ll find match-ups of states or metro areas, and you simply pick the one with the larger population. You’ll go through all the pairings until you’ve selected what you think is the state or metro area with the largest population in the country.

The Census Bureau has developed quite a few tools and games like this to showcase their data.  You can find the entire gallery on their webpage: www.census.gov/dataviz/

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Posted By: Susan Clapp Category: Susan Clapp Tags: bracketology, Census data, data visualization

Animating historical county boundaries and census data

11 March 2013

Among those of us who love old maps, the good people at the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries project have digitized and uploaded historical information on the shape of American counties.  With this data one can animate how America’s political boundaries have changed since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay and Virginia Colonies.  The above video shows historic county boundaries from 1630 to 1910 (shortly after Oklahoma and Indian Territory joined to form the State of Oklahoma in 1907).  Please note these boundaries show the creation of government-defined geographic units, not necessarily where population is located.

Another great thing about this data is the level of detail available.  For instance, focusing on the monumental changes that Virginia has gone through is quite interesting:

Note the emergence of many of Virginia’s Independent Cities at the turn of the 20th Century.

Things get more interesting when these county files are merged with historical census data.  Inspired by our previous post on “Every person gets a dot,” I decided to look at county population dot densities from the first United States Census of 1790 to the recent 2010 Census.  Here, every dot represents 5,000 people:

Dustin Cable is a Policy Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where he conducts research on topics that lie at the intersection of demographics, politics, and public policy.

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Posted By: Dustin Cable Category: Dustin Cable Tags: 1790, census, colonial, county, data visualization, dot density, historic, population density

One-Third of Adults Receiving Need-Based Government Assistance Have a Disability

1 March 2013

As Dustin and I documented in the second part of our series on poverty and the social safety net in Virginia, need-based government social safety net programs are typically targeted towards specific subgroups of low-income individuals: single mothers and their children, working adults, and individuals with disabilities. While poor single female-headed households and the working poor have received significant attention among researchers, the disabled population has received less attention, in part because regularly available, high quality data that capture aspects of disability status have only recently become available.

This past Tuesday, the Census Bureau released a report, Disability Characteristics of Income-Based Government Assistance Recipients in the United States: 2011, which uses 2011 American Community Survey data to document the disability prevalence and type among U.S. adults 18 and older receiving need-based public assistance. Nationally, 30.4% of adults receiving need-based government assistance report some type of disability. Virginia, like many of the states along the Appalachian mountains, has a slightly higher rate of disability among adults receiving need-based aid: 33.4%.

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Posted By: Becky Tippett Category: Rebecca Tippett Tags: disability, poverty, social safety net

Viable electoral college reform?

15 February 2013

Artist Neil Freeman published a map of the United States redrawn to have 50 states with equal population, an art project that addresses what he says is “the fundamental problem of the electoral college”: “that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence.”

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Posted By: Becky Tippett Category: Rebecca Tippett Tags: data visualization, electoral college, population density, redistricting

Every person gets a dot

11 February 2013

Brandon Martin-Anderson from the MIT Media Lab created a great visualization tool showing the location of every resident of North America.

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Posted By: Susan Clapp Category: Susan Clapp Tags: Census 2010, data visualization

Do improvements in consumption equal improvements in economic well-being?

6 February 2013

The image of poor individuals living large on government handouts is a powerful one that implicitly characterizes the poor as undeserving of assistance. The narrative of the Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” is perhaps the most well-known trope, but more recent articles on consumption trends have dismissed concerns about rising income inequality by focusing on what New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall terms “the hidden prosperity of the poor.”

The central thesis of this line of argument is perhaps best summarized by George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux, whom Edsall quotes:

“[O]ur larger, more central, and most important point is that middle-class Americans are today far better off economically than they were 30 or 40 years ago, regardless of how their well-being today compares to that of rich Americans.”

This line of argumentation defines one of the primary characteristics of improved economic well-being as having access to better and more affordable goods and services than previous generations. As Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur write in the Wall Street Journal:

“[T]he access of low-income Americans—those earning less than $20,000 in real 2009 dollars—to devices that are part of the “good life” has increased [between 2001 and 2009]. The percentage of low-income households with a computer rose to 47.7% from 19.8% in 2001….

The percentage of low-income homes with air-conditioning equipment rose to 83.5% from 65.8%, with dishwashers to 30.8% from 17.6%, with a washing machine to 62.4% from 57.2%, and with a clothes dryer to 56.5% from 44.9%.”

The argument that the poor are somehow “doing okay” because they have access to air conditioners, time saving devices, and computers is a distraction from a larger discussion that is worth having, and ignores key issues underlying the consumption theory. Continue reading »

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Posted By: Becky Tippett Category: Rebecca Tippett Tags: consumption, economic well-being, income, inequality, measurement, poverty