Student Debt Levels are Soaring

Earlier this month the Federal Reserve Bank of New York published a report on household debt. Among the findings was the story that student debt is rising to problematic levels as it may act as a brake on economic recovery. In short, without an economy creating jobs for the young (recent university graduates) it becomes increasingly difficult for the young to pay pack the loans for the sharply rising costs of university tuition.

The report made this argument by use of interactive choropleth maps and charts. The one below looks at

Which consumers have how much debt
Which consumers have how much debt

But another chart that talks about the rising levels of student loan debt misses the mark. Here we see some rather flat lines. Clearly student loans are growing, but without a common baseline, the variations in the other types of debt muddle that message.

The NY Fed's presentation of non-housing debt
The NY Fed's presentation of non-housing debt

I took the liberty of using the data provided by the New York Fed and charting the lines all separately. Here you can clearly see just how in less than ten years, student loans have risen from $200 billion to $1,000 billion. This as credit card debt is falling along with other forms of debt (non-automotive).

My take on non-housing debt
My take on non-housing debt

The New York Fed did some great work, but with just one tweak to their visualisation forms, their story is made much more powerful and much more clear.

Credit for the original work goes to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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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