The Disappearing Urban Middle Class

Today we look at income in American cities and in particular the middle class disappearance. The Guardian published the graphics, but they originate with Metrocosm, LTDB at Brown, and IPUMS National Historical Geographic Information System. So what are we looking at? Well, the big one is a set of small multiples of cities and their income breakdowns as percentages of city census tracts. This screenshot is static, but the original is an animated .gif.

The flattening of the curve
The flattening of the curve

I have a few issues with the design of the graphic, the most important of which is the colour palette. If the goal is to focus on the decline of the middle class—and I admit that may be the point of the Guardian’s authors and not the original authors—why are the most visually striking colours at the top of the income distribution. Instead, you would want to draw attention to the middle of each chart, not the right. And if the idea was that the darker colours represent the higher income groups, well the positioning of each bar on the chart and the axis labelling does that already. After all, if anything, the story is that in a number of cities the middle class has shrunk while the lower income groups have grown. And you can barely see that with the lower income groups coloured yellow.

My other issues are more minor design things such as the city labelling. I kept reading the label as being below the bars, not above as it actually is.

And then I wonder if a different chart form would be more effective at showing the decline in the middle class. Perhaps a line chart plotting the beginning and end points for each cohort?

Then the piece gets into some three-dimensional maps that you can spin and rotate.

Just stop
Just stop

Yeah. Shall I count the ways? A more conventional choropleth would have served the purpose far more effectively. The dimensionality hides lower income tracts behind higher ones. The solution? Allow the user to rotate and spin the map? No, get rid of the dimensionality. It offers little to the understanding of the underlying data. Not to mention, are the areas of shadows shadows? Or are they another bin or cohort of income?

And then you have to read the piece to get a fuller understanding of my criticism.

But don’t worry, I can quote it.

Chicago was largely successful transitioning away from manufacturing to a service-based economy. This shift is evident in the bifurcated pattern present in 2015 – a heavy concentration of wealth in the business/financial district and marked decline in the surrounding area.

Those of you who read this blog from Chicago or who have lived in Chicago will pick up on it. The rest of you not so much. The concentration of wealth is not located in the business/financial district. Those dark red skyscrapers are not actual skyscrapers, they are census tracts located not in the financial district, but the areas of River North, Old Town, Gold Coast, &c. Thinking of the issue more logically, yes incomes are up in cities that are doing well. But how many of those very wealthy live on the same block as their office? Not many. Your higher income is going to be concentrated in residential or mixed-residential neighbourhoods near, but not in the business/financial district.

The data behind this work fascinates me. I just wish the final graphics had been designed with a bit more consideration for the data and the stories therein. And a little bit of proper understanding of the cities and their geography would help the text.

Credit for the piece goes to Metrocosm, LTDB at Brown University, and IPUMS National Historical Geographic Information System.

The US Airline Industry

Yesterday Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, testified to Congress about the airline industry. All of this just a few weeks after such a great week of press coverage. Of course, the last few weeks have also been a wee bit busy, so I was unable to post today’s piece. But with Munoz’s testimony it makes the perfect segue.

Today’s piece is a graphic article from the New York Times. It examines the state of the US airline industry. I use the term graphic article, because outside of headlines and subheads, it uses few words. Instead the point of the article is conveyed via charts. And what I found really nice is that, as the below photo shows, the article comprised most of the front page of the Business section.

The overall layout of the page
The overall layout of the page

In terms of the structure, the piece did a nice job of giving breathing space around the various elements. This helps focus the reader’s attention on the charts and the data therein. Long headers and subheads break the vertical flow and create sentences or paragraphs that the charts prove.

The graphics above the fold
The graphics above the fold

But then we get below the fold and low and behold we have a pie chart. I would have probably used a bar chart to show the market share. Especially with the top-three airlines so close. On the other hand, I can see the argument for the large, colour-filled visual. It does a nice job balancing the area charts at the opening and puts an emphatic period at the end of the piece.

And then below the fold
And then below the fold

Overall, a solid piece and one that I am glad occupied a significant portion of the Business section front page.

Credit for the piece goes to Karl Russel.

The NFL Draft Comes to Philadelphia

The joke I have been telling everyone in person this past week: I changed jobs and moved 750 miles from Chicago to Philadelphia, but I still cannot escape the NFL Draft. The two previous drafts occurred across the street from my last job and this year they are three blocks away from my new flat. Traffic is a bloody nightmare. So while there is a lot of news to cover through data visualisation and design, the local story is the NFL Draft that begins tonight next to the Rocky statue and in front of the Art Museum. We will return to trade wars with Canada, tax cuts for the rich, North Korea, climate change, and other things over the next few weeks.

Today’s piece comes from the Washington Post and looks at NFL Draft success across the NFL. Unfortunately for all of you, I know almost nothing about the NFL except Free Tom Brady. (I have to transfer my Red Sox allegiance somewhere, right?) But this set of small multiples looks fantastic and generally tells me that the Colts and Packers—the latter likely to the chagrin of my Chicago-born followers—have historically done well.

While I fail to understand the references/anecdotes, the grid looks nice…
While I fail to understand the references/anecdotes, the grid looks nice…

Aesthetically, I am not sure about the handwriting typeface. I wonder: could the content have been handled better by a more traditional face?

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum.

UK Spring Budget

The British government is delivering its budget statement today. So as a teaser, the Guardian published this article with six charts to help understand where things are at. Chart-wise there is nothing radical or revolutionary here, but I have a soft spot for articles driven by data visualisation.

Quarterly growth
Quarterly growth

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

A Look Back

Well, we are one day away now. And I’ve been saving this piece from the New York Times for today. They call it simply 2016 in Charts, but parts of it look further back while other parts try to look ahead to new policies. But all of it is well done.

I chose the below set of bar charts depicting deaths by terrorism to show how well the designers paid attention to their content and its placement. Look how the scale for each chart matches up so that the total can fit neatly to the left, along with the totals for the United States, Canada, and the EU. What it goes to show you is best summarised by the author, whom I quote “those 63 [American] deaths, while tragic, are about the same as the number of Americans killed annually by lawn mowers.”

Deaths by terrorism
Deaths by terrorism

I propose a War on Lawn Mowers.

The rest of the piece goes on to talk about the economy—it’s doing well; healthcare—not perfect, but reasonably well; stock market—also well; proposed tax cuts—good for the already wealthy; proposed spending—bad for public debt; and other things.

The commonality is that the charts work really well for communicating the stories. And it does all through a simple, limited, and consistent palette.

But yeah, one day away now.

Credit for the piece goes to Steven Rattner.

Populism Marches on in Europe

By just a hair under 20 percentage points, Italian voters—with a 70% turnout rate—voted down the reform package of soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. While the election was focused narrowly on a set of political reforms for Italian government, e.g. reducing the number of senators, the vote was unofficially seen by many as a test of the strength of anti-establishment populists in Europe. Note wins by such groups in Brexit and Donald Trump. In Europe this is a particularly important barometer reading because of 2017 elections in the Netherlands, France, and then Germany.

I had been looking for some online results trackers, in English, last night but found little. There was, however, this page from Bloomberg. The key thing for me is the link between the regions on the map and the section on the bar chart.

The datasets in the map and bar chart are linked, a nice touch
The datasets in the map and bar chart are linked, a nice touch

Credit for the piece goes to Bloomberg’s graphics department.

Mexican Immigration

So following on from my Wednesday post, let’s take another look at the “problem” of Mexican immigration. Because as these graphics from the Pew Research Center show, it’s not really a problem these days.

The unauthorised population is down
The unauthorised population is down
We're seeing more leave than enter
We’re seeing more leave than enter

Instead, immigration is down.

Credit for the piece goes to the Pew Research Center graphics department.

Deportation of Immigrants

Donald Trump announced how he wants to deport 2–3 million undocumented immigrants that have criminal convictions or that belong to gangs. I read up on the issue at FiveThirtyEight and came across the following graphic from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The government's chart on deportations
The government’s chart on deportations

However, when I review the graphic, I found it difficult to understand the FiveThirtyEight article’s point that President Obama has lessened the focus on deportation, but those deported are those convicted of serious criminal offences. So I expanded the size of the y-axis and broke apart the stacked bar chart to show the convicted criminals vs. the non-criminal immigration violators. This graphic more clearly shows the dramatic falloff in deportations, and the emphasis on those with criminal convictions.

A general decline in deportations has also seen a focus on convicted criminals over non-criminal immigration violators
A general decline in deportations has also seen a focus on convicted criminals over non-criminal immigration violators

Credit for the original goes to the graphics department of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The other one is mine.

Daylight Savings Time

You clearly didn’t miss this story from two weeks ago, because we all had to change our clocks. But, you might not have thought much about it. Which is fine, because I think there was an election or something a day or two later. Or was I dreaming/nightmaring?

Thankfully Andy Woodruff did think about it and he put together a really nice piece about how the changes to time affect the amount of perceived sunlight. I say perceived because obviously the same amount of sunlight falls upon the Earth, but it’s whether we can see it from underneath the covers or hidden behind our office computer monitors.

His interactive piece lets you examine scenarios based on your preferred inputs. For example, as someone who goes to work a bit later in the morning—I have to write this blog sometime, right?—I would prefer the sun to be up later into the evening. And based on my selections, that means that I should consider the argument for always using Daylight Savings Time.

Making DST year-long would make for sunlit evenings throughout the year
Making DST year-long would make for sunlit evenings throughout the year

Whereas if I valued a sunrise with daylight, I might prefer to abolish Daylight Savings Time.

Abolishing DST would mean for me more days of sunlight in the morning
Abolishing DST would mean for me more days of sunlight in the morning

Credit for the piece goes to Andy Woodruff.

The National Debt

One of the things discussed during the election season—though very minorly compared to other things—is the national debt. Debt itself is not scary. Look at student loans, home loans, auto loans, &c. Look at the credit cards in your wallet. But running a country is far more difficult and complex than a household budget. That said, our national debt is high, though of late it has been trending in a positive direction, i.e. flattening out its growth curve.

So what would electing either Clinton or Trump do to the debt? Well, nothing great. According to this piece from the Washington Post, we would be talking about increasing the debt because of plans that are not fully funded or revenue cuts that fail to match spending cuts. But as the graphic shows with a really nice piece of layout between text and image, one option is far worse than the other for the issue of the national debt.

The graphic is clear, and emphasised by the layout of the text
The graphic is clear, and emphasised by the layout of the text

The opening graphic above draws the reader into the overall piece, but the remainder of the piece breaks down policies and implications with additional graphics. If you want to understand the differences between the candidates and the impact of those differences, this is a good read.

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Uhrmacher and Jim Tankersley.