Are you better off today than you were four years ago?
Jane Sasseen and Matthew Merlin
Pitch for Data Driven Journalism
Since Ronald Reagan first posed that question in a debate with then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980, it has become a staple of election year debate. This year has been no exception: Republican contender Mitt Romney has based much of his campaign on the argument that the country remains far worse off than when Barack Obama first took office. Meanwhile, the President and his backers (Bill Clinton, to the most notable effect) have argued that things are in fact much improved, given the depth of the recession that was just starting to take hold in January 2009.
By and large, the candidates are making that argument on a national level, trading statistics for the country as a whole. We plan to take a look at question at a more granular level, going state by state to determine how each has individually fared. After all, the U.S. economy is made up of many smaller economies, with different industries, competitive dynamics, and population dynamics. Some have unarguably done better than others, and the country as a whole: North Dakota, with an economy in the midst of an oil boom and unemployment down to 3%, is unquestionably better off than it was four years ago – or than much of the rest of the country is today.
We plan to take a state-by-state look at a series of measures to come up with a detailed portrait of how much better or worse off each really is on the eve of the election. We’ll compare the latest stats (September or August 2012) with those from January 2009, where available. (And find the closest relevant annual or quarterly dates for comparison, where monthly stats don’t exist.) Besides North Dakota, which states are doing better? Which are muddling through, and which remain mired in difficulties? And to what extent do the anwers to those questions help explain the political dynamics in each state. Is there any correlation between the states that are worst off, and those where polls show that voters are most willing to vote President Obama out of office?
We will present this in series of maps, with call out for each state’s data. We will do a map of each individual element, as well as a map that contains a pop-up box that combines all the elements into one for an overall look at the situation. We will have some color coding to show which states are doing better, which worse, and which are about the same.
Our data sources include:
State-by-State Unemployment rates:
–Bureau of Labor Statistics
Median Household Income:
GDP by state
–Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis
Population by state (to calculate GDP on a per-capita basis)
–U.S. Census Department
For the latest state-by-state polls
For expert sources:
1) Michael Mandel
Former Chief economist, BusinessWeek magazine; chief economic strategist for the Progressive Policy Institute
2) Lawrence Katz
Economics professor at Harvard
3) David Johnson
4) Greg Valliere (for political analysis)
Chief Political Strategist