Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Graphics Will Save Us

Yesterday, CNN/Fortune Magazine ran an interactive map proudly trumpeted as "Where does your state rank?" Specifically, the map breaks down the United States by state in terms of Unemployment, State Budget Deficit, and Foreclosures. I guess the point of the map is to make people who already live in a difficult situation feel even worse about their relative position, or those who are not so bad off feel superior to the other "lesser" states. I think my review of the map left me with a third and unexpected third position where I feel slightly better in our precarious situation when compared to the rest of the country.

These three things, Unemployment, State Budget Deficit, and Foreclosures are all strongly positively correlated. High unemployment results in reduced tax collections from income as well as the unfortunate inability of people to pay for their mortgages. This is a simplified explanation (mostly because I'm not good enough to give a more complex explanation), but it is roughly correct. Everyone knows that unemployment in Michigan is a gigantic problem through which we're all struggling. The contraction of the auto industry has left hundreds of thousands of people looking for work, and on the map, it is clear that our unemployment situation is the worst in the nation. No news there, but difficult to see nonetheless. While this situation is dire, there are many states that are near Michigan's levels in this sad category.

What was more striking to me is where Michigan stands on the State Budget Deficit and Foreclosure Rate map. For years and years The Free Press and The Detroit News have endlessly reported state budget deficits and our "incompetent" state government's ability to come to budgetary agreement. Even in these very difficult times in Michigan with our highest unemployment rate, it appears to me that our state budget deficit is less than about 2/3 of the states in the U.S. I don't have a clue how this would be the case, but in this category, I also expected Michigan to be at the bottom of the barrel. I don't know who deserves credit for keeping this category from spiraling out of control, but if I'm reading the map correctly, someone deserves some small amount of credit.

The foreclosure map falls somewhere between the unemployment map and the state budget deficit map. Things aren't too pretty here, but again, I expected to see much worse - if not the worst in the country. I'm sure it has something to do with my proximity to the news here, but it seems like Michigan is generally regarded at the national level as the worst in all three categories.

All three of these pictures are not good at the national level, but for a state and people that view themselves as the whipping boys of country and the worst-regarded state out there, this may add just a little ammo for you in defending your home state. Of course the possible complete fall of the auto industry could make us skyrocket in each map, but we can only reasonably focus on one issue at a time.


John said...

Are you really encouraging taking solace in someone else's plight? This is the same argument Alabama or Mississippi have used for years, at least we are better than them.

Ken said...

Not at all a celebration of the troubles also experienced by other states, but rather an acknowledgment that Michigan is not bottom of the barrel in all three categories when it easily could be. That is an absolutely minor victory to be sure, but I am surprised that despite all of the great troubles in our state, someone, somehow is keeping the sky from entirely falling (at least for now).