Saturday, December 4, 2004

Describing pictures with words. No easy task.

Here is the opening of the latest from the US Bureau of Labor regarding the employement situation in the USA. This is a good example of how difficult it is to describe important time series in words. So much is hidden when you do it this way.

Employment Situation Summary: "

Employment rose in November, and the unemployment rate, at 5.4 percent, was essentially unchanged, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 112,000 over the month, with job gains in several service-providing industries.

Unemployment (Household Survey Data)

Both the number of unemployed persons, 8.0 million, and the unemployment rate, 5.4 percent, were about unchanged in November. The jobless rate has been either 5.4 or 5.5 percent in each month since July. This is slightly below the rates that prevailed in the first half of 2004.

In November, the unemployment rates for the major worker groups--adult men (4.9 percent), adult women (4.8 percent), teenagers (16.6 percent), whites (4.7 percent), blacks (10.8 percent), and Hispanics or Latinos (6.7 percent)--showed little or no change over the month. The unemployment rate for Asians was 4.2 percent in November, not seasonally adjusted. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

In the PDF version, they do show graphs of two key metrics, covering 3 years. Clearly not the whole story. The rest of the document is filled with tables. Lots of good data, for those with the time, patience and interest, but still leaving out a giant swath of the underlying time series and forcing the readers to create the timeline visualizatoins in own heads (if at all).