An Ailing Graphic on the Healthcare Labour Force

I know I have said it before, but I like the increasing number of graphics-led articles published by Politico. Many policy and politics stories are driven—or should be driven—by data. But, myself included, we cannot hit it out of the park at every plate appearance. And that is what we have from Politico today, actually last week.

The graphic focuses on the healthcare industry and its need for a larger labour force in coming years as the baby boomers continue to age and start to retire. If their own doctors retire along with them, who will be their new doctors?

But there are two components of the graphic on which I want to focus. The first is the projection of the number of registered nurses (RNs) in 2024 compared to a 2014 baseline.

We need more. Just more.
We need more. Just more.

The story focuses on the future condition, but that colour is set to the lighter green thus drawing the reader’s eyes to the 2014 data point. Flipping those two colours would shift the focus of the chart to the 2024 timeframe, which would better match the text above.

Then we have the design decision to include a line chart for the growth rate, presumably total, for each category of RN from 2014 to 2024. The problem is that the chart itself does not sit on any baseline. While I do not care for the dual axis chart, that format at least keeps an axis legend on the right side of the chart. (You still have the problem of implying certain things based on what scale you choose to use relative to the first data series.) Here, because there is no chart lines associated with the growth data, I wonder if a table below the x-axis labels would be more efficient? Home health care, a very small category, will have the highest growth (a small change from a small base will beat the same small change or even slightly bigger changes from a far larger base) but the eye has the furthest to travel to reach the 61% number from the top of the bars or the labelling.

The other component I wanted to discuss is the scatter plot that compares the number of jobs to their average salary.

Bursting these bubbles…
Bursting these bubbles…

But this is a bubble chart, not a scatter plot, and so we have a third variable encoded in the size of the dot/bubble. The first thing I looked for was a scale for the size of the circles. What magnitude is the RN circle vs. the Personal Care Aides circle? There is none, but unfortunately that seems to be a common practice with bubble chart. But after failing to find that, I noticed that the circles decrease in size from right to left. That was when I looked to the legend and saw the y-axis in numbers of jobs and the x-axis in average salary. But then the circles are sized in proportion to the average salary of each profession to the other. In other words, the circles are basically re-plotting the x-axis. The physical therapist circle should be roughly twice as large, by area, than the vocational nurses. But we can also just see by the x-axis coordinates. The bubble chart-ness of the chart is unnecessary and the data could be told more clearly by stripping that away and making a straight-up scatter plot where all the circles are sized the same.

Credit for the piece goes to Christina Animashaun.

Flaking Out of the Senate

This has been a busy week. I am working on a small piece on the Red Sox managers in the free agency period—I thought it would be ready yesterday, but not so much—but news continues to happen outside of the baseball world. Some of the biggest, at least in the US, would have to be the speech by Senator Flake of Arizona who announced he would not seek re-election in 2018.

So cue the politically-themed graphics. Today’s piece comes from the Washington Post. The graphic itself is not terribly complex as it is a scatter plot comparing the liberal/conservativeness of senators with how their respective state voted in 2016.

Scrolling through the piece changes the graphic
Scrolling through the piece changes the graphic

But what the piece does really well is weave a narrative through the chart. Scrolling down the page locks the graphic in place while the text changes to provide new context. And then different dots are highlighted or called out.

It proves that not all the best graphics need to be terribly complex.

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher.

The Middle Income Trap?

Last week I covered a lot of Red Sox data. And your feedback has been fantastic. I think you can look forward to more visualisation of sportsball data. But since this is not a sports blog, let us dive back into some other topics. Like today’s piece on economic growth.

It comes from the Economist and explores the development history of national economies relative to that of the United States. The point of the chart was to illustrate what the researchers determined was the middle income trap, a space in which countries develop and become semi-rich, but then can never quite escape.

It's a trap! (Unless it isn't.)
It’s a trap! (Unless it isn’t.)

The Economist makes the point that the definition of middle income matters. The range is enormous and one statistic says that it could take 48 years to graduate at a healthy rate of economic growth. I wonder is this bit, however, could also have been charted. The show don’t tell mantra works well here for setting up the problem, but a chart or two showing that exact range could have supplemented the text and perhaps made it more digestible.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

The Solar Eclipse Was Off the Charts Cool

Did you really think we were done with eclipse coverage? (Actually we still will not be, there were some other neat eclipse coverage pieces I want to look at.) But today is Friday and so we look to lighter (and I find humourous) coverage, this week from xkcd.

Off the charts
Off the charts

My only quibble would be that the partial solar eclipse could be nudged further up the y-axis. I thought it was rather fantastic to witness. (But you better bet that come 2024 I will be travelling to see totality.)

Happy weekend, all.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Man vs. Shark vs. Marlin vs. Every Other Animal

About two weeks ago, Michael Phelps raced a shark. What will they not do for television ratings? The Economist took the basic premise and then had an insightful piece about the speed of animals compared to their size. The whole notion of animals get faster the larger they get. Well, to a point, the Economist found. The graphic is a bit complex, perhaps, in their use of a log scale on both the x and y axes. But they have cute little illustrations of everyone’s favourite animals. So it all balances out in the end.

Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Nature

But there is real science in the piece and it is worth a quick read.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist graphics department.

Comparing the US Healthcare System to the World

Spoiler, we don’t look so great.

In this piece from the Guardian, we have one of my favourite types of charts. But, the piece begins with a chart I wonder about. We have a timeline of countries creating universal healthcare coverage, according to the WHO definition—of which there are only 32 countries. But we then plot their 2016 population regardless of when the country established the system. It honestly took me a few minutes to figure out what the chart was trying to communicate.

This is the only graphic I'm not sure of in the entire piece.
This is the only graphic I’m not sure of in the entire piece.

However, we do get one of my favourite charts: the scatter plot over time. And in it we look at the correlation between spending on healthcare compared to life expectancy. And, as I revealed in the spoiler, for all the money we spend on healthcare—it is not leading to longer lives as it broadly does throughout the world. And care as you might want to blame Obamacare, the data makes clear this problem began in the 1980s.

Someone's getting cheated out of a lot of money. Oh wait, that's us…
Someone’s getting cheated out of a lot of money. Oh wait, that’s us…

And of course Obamacare is why the Guardian published this piece since this is the week of the Vote-a-rama that we expect to see Thursday night. The Republicans will basically be holding an open floor to vote on anything and everything that can get some measure of repeal and/or replace 50 votes. And to wrap the piece, the Guardian concludes with a simple line chart showing the number of uninsured out to 2026. To nobody’s surprise, all the plans put forward leave tens of millions uncovered.

When all the options look bad, why not work with what you have?
When all the options look bad, why not work with what you have?

It is a fantastic piece that is well worth the read, especially because it compares the systems used by a number of countries. (That is largely the text bit that we do not cover here at Coffeespoons.) I found the piece very informative.


Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Maintaining Your Photo Library

Well yesterday sucked.

But at least today is Friday. Also Cinco de Mayo. And so in addition to trying to find some mezcal tomorrow—anybody know a good spot in Philly?—we can wrap this week up with something on the humourous side.

My mobile is a few years old now and I’ve been taking lots of the photos the last few years. Last weekend I reached a point where I could no longer take photos. Consequently I have been going back through all my old photos. And so this piece from xkcd seemed rather appropriate.

I'm somewhere in the bottom right
I’m somewhere in the bottom right

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Here We Go Again

Well as of last night, we are having yet another vote on AHCA, better known as Trumpcare. I will not get into the details of the changes, but basically it can be summed up as waivers for Obamacare regulations. And as of last night, $8 billion over five years to cover those at high-risk. What about after five years? What if, as experts say, that sum is insufficient and it runs out before five years are up?

This is still a bad bill.

But thankfully we have FiveThirtyEight who looked at support before the Upton amendment—the $8 billion bit—and found that the bill could still fail because of a lack of moderate support.

Round and round we go
Round and round we go

The basic premise is this: In order to get the conservative Freedom Caucus, which scuppered the bill a few weeks ago, on side Ryan et al. had to make the bill more conservative. They likely had to make it cover fewer people at a higher cost. I say likely because Ryan is not sending this to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score the bill, something typically done to see how much it costs and whether it might work. Problem is, by making the bill more conservative, they push away moderate Republicans. Yes, Virginia, they do exist.

Today’s question is whether an $8 billion throw-in will buy in enough moderate votes.

It’s going to be a long day.

Credit for the piece goes to Harry Enten.

Trump’s Wall

Another day, another story about the administration to cover with data-driven graphics. We are approaching Trump’s 100th day in office, traditionally the first point at which we examine the impact of the new president. And well, beyond appointing a Supreme Court justice, it is hard to find a lot of things President Trump has actually done. But on his 99th day, he will also need to approve a Congressional bill to fund the government, or else the government shuts down on his 100th day. Not exactly the look of a successful head of state and government.

Why do I bring this up? Well, one of the many things that may or may not make it into the bill is funding for Trump’s wall that Mexico will pay for, but at an undetermined later date, because he wants to get started building the wall early, but late because he promised to start on Day 1.

Several weeks ago the Wall Street Journal published a fantastic piece on the current wall bordering Mexico. It examines the current state of fencing and whether parts of the border are fenced or not. It turns out a large portion is not. But, the piece goes on to explain just why large sections are not.

The wall today
The wall today

You should read the full piece for a better understanding. Because while the president says building the wall will cost $10 billion or less, real estimates place the costs at double that. Plus there would be lawsuits because, spoiler: significant sections of the border wall would cross private property, national parks, and Native American reservations. Also the southern border crosses varied terrain from rives to deserts to mountains some lengths of which are really difficult to build walls upon.

But the part that I really like about the piece is this scatter plot that examines the portion of the border fenced vs. the number of apprehensions. It does a brilliant job of highlighting the section of the border that would benefit most significantly from fencing, i.e. a sector with minimal fencing and a high number of apprehensions: the Rio Grande Valley.

Where would more fencing make more of a difference
Where would more fencing make more of a difference

And to make that point clear, the designers did a great job of annotating the plot to help the reader understand the plot’s meaning. As some of my readers will recall, I am not a huge fan of bubble plots. But here there is some value. The biggest bubbles are all in the lower portion of fenced sectors. Consequently, one can see that those rather well-fenced sectors would see diminished returns by completing the wall. A more economical approach would be to target a sector that has low mileage of fencing, but also a high number of apprehensions—a big circle in the lower right of the chart. And that Rio Grande Valley sector sits right there.

Overall, a fantastic piece by the Wall Street Journal.

Credit for the piece goes to Stephanie Stamm, Renée Rigdon, and Dudley Althaus.


Declining British Wages

Now for the actual piece for today.

We have a scatterplot from the Financial Times that looks at wage and economic growth across the OECD, focusing on the exception that is the United Kingdom. And that is not an exception in the good sense.

The UK had the rare privilege of experiencing economic growth—that’s good—while simultaneously wages fell—that’s bad. But I wanted to comment on the chart today.

I would have designed this a little bit differently
I would have designed this a little bit differently

Straight off the bat, the salmon-coloured background does not bother me. That is FT’s brand and best to stick to it and make your graphics work around it. Possibly the colours in the plot could use a bit of a push to increase separation, but that is more a design quibble. Instead, I am not too keen on the colour coding here.

Not that the colours need not be applied, but why to the dots? Note how the dots of a colour fall into one of the quadrants. Instead of having people refer to the legend, incorporate the legend into the chart by moving the labels to the plot background. You could colour code the labelling or even colour the quadrants to make it a bit clearer.

Credit for the piece goes to the Financial Times graphics department.