The Drop in the Unemployment Rate and How to Spin It

On Friday we received the monthly jobs report. And the furore that arose with it. Principally the anger stemmed from right-leaning commentators who believed that the non-partisan Bureau of Labor Statistics, a government agency tasked with collecting data on employment among other metrics, “cooked the books”/ “massaged the figures”/ flat-out lied to show a significant drop in the unemployment rate that could not be attributed to people who had stopped looking for work—a cause of some earlier drops over the last few years. As someone who works with data originally collected from national statistics offices across the world on a daily basis, those claims touched a nerve. But I shall leave that rant for another time.

Instead let’s look at the New York Times piece that quickly followed on the outrage of fools. We can look at and analyse the data in different ways—the origin of the phrase lies, damned lies, and statistics—and surely the Republican and Democratic parties would do just that. They did. This New York Times piece shows how that can be—and was—done. It involves points of reference and context.

First the facts:

The Facts
The Facts

Then how the Democrats spin them:

Spin it from the left…
Spin it from the left…

Finally how the Republicans spin them:

Then spin it from the right.
Then spin it from the right.

But the facts themselves do not lie. 114,000 non-farm jobs were added to payrolls. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8%, the lowest rate since January 2009.

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, Amanda Cox and Kevin Quealy.

Author: Brendan Barry

I am a graphic designer who focuses on information design. My day job? I am the data visualisation manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. (This blog is my something I do on my own time and does not represent the views of the Fed, blah blah blah legal stuff.) And with my main interest in information design—be it in the shape of clear charts, maps, diagrams, or wayfinding systems—I am fortunate that my day job focuses on data visualisation. Outside of work, I try to stay busy with personal design work. Away from the world of design, I enjoy cooking and reading and am interested in various subjects from history and geography to politics to science to the arts. And I allow all of them to influence my work.

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