An interesting visualization of gay rights in the United States, by state and region

The vote on the proposed Amendment One in North Carolina, which defines marriage in the NC state constitution as between one man and one woman, and bans any other type of domestic legal union, such as civil unions and domestic partnership, passed yesterday. This result has been all over the news today, and it might leave you wondering where your state or other states around the country stand on gay rights issues. The Guardian Interactive has just posted a new interactive infographic depicting gay rights in each of the 50 states and D.C.

Gay Rights in the U.S.

There is a lot going on in this interactive tool. The graphic has seven concentric circles in different colors, each representing a different issue related to gay rights: school bullying, hate crimes protection, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, adoption, hospital visitation, and marriage. Each of the seven circles is segmented to represent a state, and those segments are shaded to show whether state laws provide no rights, limited rights, or maximum rights on each issue.

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Casual genealogy

Several weeks ago, I posted an article on the importance of humanizing data so that people better understand the stories that lie behind the numbers.  Sometimes these data can help us uncover profound truths about ourselves as well as provide insights into society as a whole.

The internet has been all a buzz about the recent release of the 1940 Census data. After 72 years, the confidentiality of the 1940 Census has been lifted, and all of the information within it is now available to the public.  What makes this decade’s release of past census data special is that all of it is online for free, in JPEG image format, for our viewing pleasure.  Everything from people’s names, income, and what they did for a living 72 years ago is available for any pajama-wearing internet surfer.  No more dealing with microfilm, magnetic tape, or online genealogy subscriptions, things that can be annoying and require effort to glean any insights from.  For the casual genealogist, like myself, this was good news. Continue reading “Casual genealogy”

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Residential segregation in Virginia’s counties and cities

The Weldon Cooper Center released a report today examining geographic and demographic changes in Virginia’s black population over time: Blacks in Virginia: Demographic Trends in Historical Context. One topic in the report is the continued residential segregation of blacks in Virginia’s big metropolitan centers. I thought it would be interesting, as well, to have a look at segregation in all of Virginia’s localities.

First, some background. Residential segregation is most commonly measured with something called the index of dissimilarity. Here, we’ll measure how evenly blacks and whites are distributed across the census tracts within each county or city, based on the 2010 Census. The dissimilarity value can be anything from 0, complete integration (the proportion of blacks and whites in each census tract equals the proportion of blacks and whites in the county overall) , to 100, complete segregation (all of the blacks live in census tracts with no whites and all of the whites live in census tracts with no blacks).

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More on Virginia’s Colleges

Speaking of infographics, I’ve been playing with the college completion data I highlighted previously. Below is a star chart (aka radar chart, spider chart) of data on Virginia’s 4-year public colleges.

Each spoke represents a different piece of data, and the length of the spoke conveys the magnitude of that data for each university. The colleges themselves are ordered by the number of students which you can see in the spoke pointing due East – that spoke is longest for Virginia Tech and shortest for Virginia Military Institute.

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Racial attitudes, the generation gap, and the political perfect storm

Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching closely the recent efforts by the National Journal to prominently showcase stories, polls, and news events that highlight demography and population change. With a particular focus on politics, the “Next America” project, beginning with the articles written by Editorial Director Ronald Brownstein, is an “unprecedented effort to explore the significant political, economic and social impact of profound racial and cultural changes.” I was grabbed by some of the findings from their latest article “Diversity Now.”

It is no surprise to anyone that the nation’s population is changing in a fundamental way. As a whole, the population is growing older, and this change is overlaying deep and enduring racial and ethnic divides in this country. The young are racially and ethnically diverse; the old are predominately white. In a few decades the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the United States will become “majority-minority.”  These fundamental changes will bring tremendous political challenges, as they have already begun to do. Perhaps not since the 1960s, when the boomers first entered the political scene en masse, will this country experience such generational conflict. Think of current political struggles over the national debt, old-age entitlement spending, or immigration and then imagine what the political debate around these issues will look like in a decade or two when more of today’s young people enter the political arena. The 2008 presidential race between Obama and McCain somewhat reflected this racial and generational gap. Obama, America’s first President of black descent, won with a minority of white voters while earning more than 80 percent of the support of non-whites; a strong majority of young people while declining support with older ages.

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Demographics and Infographics

I read quite a few blogs about demographics and statistics.  One of my favorites is FlowingData, which is written by Nathan Yau, a PhD candidate in statistics at UCLA.  He focuses mainly on how researchers use data visualization to convey their results to non-experts.  Nathan recently posted links to two really neat infographics.

1) Pay gap between men and women – this tool plots the weekly median salary for women vs. the weekly median salary for men.  You can scroll through the displayed year and watch how the data changed from 2003 through 2011.  You can turn occupation groups on and off and click on the dots to see the more detailed occupation and where exactly it falls on the graph.  Over the nine year period, there were only a handful of computers and mathematics, professional, and sales and office occupations for which the median salaries for women went briefly and slightly above the median salaries for men.

2) Population densities around the world – this interactive map was developed by Derek Watkins, a graduate student in Geography at the University of Oregon.  He calls the map “a squinty-eyed look at population densities.”   Users can move the slider to display areas with population densities of 5 – 500 people per square kilometer.  The underlying data come from the Gridded Population of the World project at Columbia University.

Population Density Map

This image is a screen capture of the map showing areas of the world with at least 15 people per square kilometer.  Nathan Yau added the labels for reference.  On the interactive map, it’s interesting to scroll and see how dense India and China are compared with the rest of the world.

I highly recommend following the FlowingData blog; it’s a fun read.  Nathan finds and shares a lot of great data visualization tools on a variety of topics.

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Refund anticipation loans ending in 2012

This year marks the end of bank-provided tax refund anticipation loans.  Refund anticipation loans (RALs) are short-term loans with high interest and fees that are based on a filer’s expected tax refund (minus tax preparation fees, loan fees, and interest).  RALs provide access to tax refund money about 7-9 days earlier than if the filer received a direct deposit from the IRS.

Like other short-term, high-cost loans, RALs can pose serious threats to the economic well-being of individuals and families.  Of concern to both policy makers and the broader public is that RALs undermine tax assistance for the working poor.  In Virginia in 2008, 7 percent of Virginians receiving tax refunds (nearly 200,000 filers) requested RALs.  Nearly two-thirds of RAL applicants received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal anti-poverty program targeted at low-income households that work.  Chi Chi Wu and Jean Ann Fox of the National Consumer Law Center estimate that nationwide RALs drained $255 million from the federal EITC program in 2010.

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How old is old? Is 80 the new 65?

Most of us have heard talk about the Baby Boomers and how they will impact the U.S. population in the next few decades.  The Boomers are the large group of people (76 million) who were born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964.   The oldest members of the cohort have just started turning 65 in the past year, and they are starting to become eligible for many benefits that are provided to the “elderly.”  But more and more, it feels strange to categorize these individuals as “elderly.”  The words elderly and senior conjure up the notion of someone far more frail and feeble than the many vibrant, active people age 65 and older with whom a lot of us interact on a daily basis.  According to the American Community Survey, 1 in 4 Americans age 65 to 74 are still in the labor force, and many of the others are retirees who still actively volunteer or provide care for grandchildren or even their own parents.  These are folks who run in marathons and go back to school.  So why are we calling them elderly?

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College Completion in Virginia

In March, The Chronicle of Higher Education, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, produced a microsite of college completion: it seeks to show “Who graduates from college, who doesn’t, and why it matters.” With data on 3,800 degree-granting institutions in the U.S., you can easily waste a lunch break (or two) exploring the site.

There are myriad ways to parse this data. You can look at individual institutions, institutions by state, types of institutions, and demographics within institutions. I looked at graduation rates among Virginia’s 4-year colleges by type of institution: public (15 colleges), private (28 colleges), and for-profit (17 colleges).

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Occupation Change, 1920-2010

Every year the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases new data about occupations and employment in America. They estimate how many jobs there are for doctors and actors, how many jobs there are in manufacturing and real estate, how many jobs there are in a multitude of other occupations and industries. And every two years they make projections for the future, giving us an idea of which occupations will be growing and adding more jobs and which will be shrinking and perhaps even disappearing. Despite all the work that goes into these estimates and projections, from year to year the data look pretty much the same. Some occupations outpace their neighbors in growth, but rarely by much; the 7th largest occupation last year might be the sixth largest this year, but we rarely see dramatic yearly changes. So why is all this work important?

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