Humanization vs. invasion of privacy

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As a professional demographer, and one who studies and collects data on people for a living, one of the issues I frequently get asked about is privacy.  The topic has always been important in my work for the Weldon Cooper Center and it also has been front and center for the U.S. Census Bureau in recent years.  For example, in 2010 the Republican National Committee passed an official resolution stating that many of the Bureau’s activities are “overreaching,” “intimidating,” and “dangerous” in regards to privacy, particularly for its American Community Survey (ACS).

While I share some of the RNC’s concerns about the mandatory nature of the ACS (although the Census Bureau very rarely enforces any sort of penalty for not answering), my primary concerns over privacy lie elsewhere.  The mountain of new data gathered by private corporations on what we eat, what we read, where we travel, what we buy, and how we surf the internet is bought, sold, and traded with impunity, often without us knowing about it.  The U.S. Census Bureau is a bastion of privacy and protection compared to what the burgeoning data mining and micro-targeting industries do on a daily basis.

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Update: Obama pulling ahead in Virginia?

After last month’s Quinnipiac poll release for Virginia, I looked at whether there was a relationship between the improved job numbers (as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)) and Obama’s recent job approval ratings in the commonwealth.  This month, the BLS updated and revised all of its monthly unemployment numbers and Quinnipiac came out with a new poll of registered voters.  The new data still show a close relationship between unemployment rates and job approval in Virginia, but perhaps that relationship is a little more complex than one might think.

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Poverty: Snapshot versus long-term findings

Although we often think of the chronically impoverished when we hear the word poverty, many more Americans are likely to experience poverty income at least once over the course of their adult lives.  It is important to keep in mind that the poverty statistics are snapshots in time.  They tell us the current economic situation of an individual and their family, and not where they are going, or where they have been.

As people move through their lives, they often experience ups and downs in income, whether due to job loss, temporary disability, or divorce.  Although we all hope our income starts—and stays!—on an upward trajectory, there are, unfortunately, no guarantees, as the recent recession has so harshly reminded us.

Research finds that, throughout their working-age years, 1 in 2 Americans will have annual income less than the poverty line at least once.  For some people, this is a fleeting, one-time event that may have few, if any, long-term consequences.  Others may cycle in and out of poverty.  And some may be chronically unable to earn more than poverty wages.

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Wage gap for mothers

When I heard a recent story about the wage gap between working mothers and other working women on NPR’s Tell Me More program, I was very impressed with the host of the show.  UNM economist Kate Krause was one of three guests that joined host Michel Martin to discuss current research on the topic.  Often when we read or hear news coverage of academic research findings, we discover that the conclusions of the research have been overstated by the journalist, usually in an effort to come up with a catchy headline.  For example, the title of the Grindstone.com article about Krause’s research is, “The Newest Wage Gap Pits Working Moms Against Working Women.”  The host of Tell Me More resisted the urge to sensationalize Krause’s research findings.

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Presidential campaign contributions, Virginia edition

The Federal Election Commission has been working to make the data from their campaign finance disclosures more accessible. For fun, I downloaded the file containing individual contributions to the presidential campaigns from Virginia and put together a quick table.

Presidential Campaign Contributions from Virginia, January 2011 through January 2012

Candidate Number Total Average
Obama, Barack 10,500 $2,569,326 $245
Romney, Mitt 2,422 $2,319,343 $958
Paul, Ron 2,756 $472,389 $171
Gingrich, Newt 846 $378,169 $447
Perry, Rick 218 $241,671 $1,109
Cain, Herman 597 $192,894 $323
Santorum, Rick 470 $178,132 $379
Pawlenty, Timothy 172 $140,149 $815
Huntsman, Jon 185 $115,864 $626
Bachmann, Michelle 383 $73,384 $192
Roemer, Charles E. ‘Buddy’ III 169 $10,203 $60
Johnson, Gary Earl 19 $9,276 $488
McCotter, Thaddeus G 1 $250 $250
Downloaded from http://www.fec.gov/disclosurep/Pnational.do

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Past year brought good news for Virginia, nation

The Bureau of Labor Statistics release of 2011 annual averages of regional and state unemployment shows continued good economic news for both the nation and Virginia.

  • Nationwide, unemployment rates dropped by 0.7% between 2010 and 2011.  Virginia saw a similar decline.
  • Virginia’s 2011 unemployment rate (6.2%) was much lower than the national average (8.9%).
  • Nearly two-thirds (64.7%) of Virginia’s population is working, compared to a national employment-population rate of 58.4%.  In fact, Virginia was the only state to significantly increase its employment-population ratio between 2010 and 2011.

Compared to its neighbors in the South Atlantic region, such as Maryland and North Carolina, Virginia had the lowest unemployment rate and highest employment/population ratio in 2011.  High employment may be one driver of Virginia’s low overall poverty rate.

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Obama job approval and unemployment in Virginia

The latest Quinnipiac poll of Virginia’s registered voters shows President Obama making headway against the likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney.  Forty-seven percent favor the President over Romney (43%) in a hypothetical match-up; a marked improvement since late last year when polls favored Romney by slim margins.

Quinnipiac Poll of Virginia Registered Voters:
If the election for President were being held today, and the candidates were Barack Obama the Democrat and Mitt Romney the Republican, for whom would you vote?
Feb. 2012 Dec. 2011 Oct. 2011 Sept 2011
Obama 47% 42% 44% 42%
Romney 43% 44% 45% 44%

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A deeper look at aggregate data analysis

A recent article in the January 23, 2012 issue of National Review drew some interesting conclusions from a research paper by Casey B. Mulligan, a University of Chicago economist, about the growth of the social safety net during the ongoing Recession.  The interesting part, though, was not in the conclusions themselves, but in how the author of the article misused the data to get there.

In his write-up, Hassett states that spending on social programs “increased not only due to the recession, but because the eligibility requirements for most programs were expanded, and their benefits increased.  Spending per person has gone up, not just total spending.”  This much is true.  But throughout the remainder of the article, Hassett carefully bends his words and the data to mislead the reader and conclude that staying home and collecting a government check has never been so attractive.

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Welcome to Stat Chat

Demography is destiny – or so, reputedly, said French philosopher and founder of sociology, Auguste Comte. While the assertion is, perhaps, too strong, demography can help us understand changes in economies, cultures, and politics. This is why we, research professionals at the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, are pleased to offer our new blog: Stat Chat.

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