When I was an undergraduate in Economics I didn’t received a lot (if any) introduction to historical data covering stock returns, interest rates, inflation much less the income, industry and occupation data that I am researching for my “Illustrated Guide to Income.” I suspect that hasn’t changed for today’s students.
While journalists will write articles about unemployment based on a press release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unless the reader is very familiar with the statistics and what they measure, these numbers are out of context and not very meaningful. News organizations like the New York Times experiment with data graphics, but there is data at government web sites and in academic papers that is not tied to current events so doesn’t get covered by the news. And the need for more and better data visualizations exists with lots of room for experimentation.
I consider my web site Visualizing Economics and “An Illustrated Guide to Income in the United States” to be my experiments in trying to bring clarity to economic data. I wanted to see if data graphics on their own can be used to explain a subject like income, instead of used just as supporting materials within a traditional storytelling format like a magazine article or embedded in a video.
I am not sure myself if the format I have chosen is going to work. But I know that the individual data graphics will be of interest to people, especially with the news coverage of Occupy Wall Street and the discussion it has created around income inequality in America.
Over the past few months I have created most of the data graphics I need to cover the topics of occupations, industries, education, country, race, gender and distribution. Recently, the Census has updated its income and poverty data series, which has given me a new set of income data with which to work. I hope to have all the data graphics finalized by the end of the year.
To that end, I have been researching different printers to print copies of the final version. However, the major question I am dealing with right now is the narrative of the guide. I have started with a very early draft to try out different organizations and approaches, looking for the best way to highlight the connections between each data graphic. I have also started to show this draft to a small number of people to see what reactions I get and what discussions are prompted from my work. This is in addition to the feedback I have been receiving from my Kickstarter backers on the early drafts of my designs.
While most of my statistics come from government websites, I have developed new data sources, such as the Economic Modeling Specialists, for their expertise with industry and occupation data. I also rcently started a relationship with Statista, a statistics portal covering agriculture, finance, and politics. I met with a senior researcher with Congressional Budget Office to discuss its efforts to use and promote data visualization of economic data.
I sometimes think my biggest challenge is not finding the data but figuring out how to present the all of the data I have found.
In October, I gave a talk at The Big Picture conference in New York. I hope to have a video of that talk on my site soon. This December, I will be giving another talk at a monthly lecture called Creative Mornings in Brooklyn. Finally, this March I will be attending SXSW as one of its five 2012 Scholarship winners.
For future promotions of the guide I have collected nearly 6,500 subscribers from email, RSS Feeds, Facebook and Twitter, which continue to grow everyday. And when I am able to post my new income infographics, I will be able to leverage my connections with other websites (like the Huffington Post, which has posted my graphics in the past) to get out the word to a much larger audience.
All in all, while there have been some ups and downs, and times when I didn’t think I could get everything done, I feel the experience has been very rewarding, and I can’t wait start posting my work on my site when it is finally done.