Visualizing the Historical Relationship Between White, Black Unemployment Rates

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance

President Trump was right last month when he bragged that black unemployment rate was at a historical low. The rate in December was 6.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 1972 (though it ticked back up nearly a percentage point last month).

But the president’s statement excluded some important context about the historic movement of this rate by race and ethnicity. I’ve tried to explain in these graphics.

First, here are four rates — all groups, black, Hispanic and white — since Ronald Reagan was in office. The early 1980s, as you can see, were pretty rough. Things have gotten better, both in terms of the rate during recessions and recoveries, and all groups have improved together as a pattern since the Great Recession:

Whether you believe a president can have any short-term effect on unemployment or not, a key point is that these rates rise and fall together. They are quite strongly correlated. In about 90 percent of the months since 1980, for example, a relationship existed between movement in the white and black rates. This correlation is slightly less strong under Democratic presidents, for whatever reason:

Even though the black rate is relatively low today, it has historically been about 2-2.5 times higher than the white rate.

Image courtesy Wikimedia/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Visualizing Income Equality in Major World Economies

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Economy & Finance, South Korea

Years after a global crisis, the world’s largest economies are again growing, The New York Times reported over the weekend.

Every major economy on earth is expanding at once, a synchronous wave of growth that is creating jobs, lifting fortunes and tempering fears of popular discontent.

A tweet on the subject prompted a friend to respond with a question about whether income inequality has grown — and that in turn prompted a quick exploration of data provided by the World Bank.

One of its many indicators is the GINI index, which measures income distribution by country and creates a score. A 0 score means absolute equality, and 100 represents absolute inequality.

These data, based on country-by-country surveys, are imperfect and incomplete, with most countries missing several years of data. The United States, for example, had only five annual estimates in the last two decades. South Korea, where I live now, had only four. Strangely, a few smaller countries had more complete data. Honduras had all but one year, for example.

Given these limits, I focused on the top-25 economies, some of which were missing scores. In these cases, I carried over the most-recent data to maintain a consistent, if imprecise, trend line.

The data are interesting in some cases. Here are the countries, listed in order of their gross national product rankings:

The Curious Case of South Korea’s Vanishing Washing Machine Exports

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance, South Korea

The Trump administration last week announced that it planned to impose higher fees, known as tariffs, to countries that export washing machines and solar panels the United States.

The tariffs, prompted by complaints from American companies who feel disadvantaged by global trade, were applied across the world — even though they seem primarily aimed at two nations who dominate the market: China and South Korea.

That’s in part because both countries have moved their manufacturing around to avoid such duties. In South Korea’s case, the change in strategy by companies like LG and Samsung seems remarkably obvious in trade data — on washing machines, in particular.

A bit of background: The U.S. Census Bureau keeps detailed data on specific product exports, by country, to the United States. The data reflect the total export value by year and national origin — where the ships came from, essentially — not by companies’ home countries. So Samsung products made in China and exported from China look like Chinese exports.

This graphic shows one possible scenario for how the strategy played out. Washing machine exports from South Korea to the United States dropped dramatically, for example, after a complaint filed in late 2011 by Whirlpool, an American manufacturer. A year later, exports from China increased significantly (and have since fallen, perhaps reflecting other shifts in manufacturing locations, such as Southeast Asia, Mexico and/or the United States itself).

The Times’ story noted the South Korean companies’ concerns:

Samsung and LG described Whirlpool’s case as a protectionist grab designed to shut out products that American consumers find more attractive, and argued that such restrictions on their products would hurt consumers by raising prices.

The export change appears to be because South Korean washing machine companies moved their operations to China during 2013 — and later the the United States — perhaps in an effort to avoid the complaints or looming tariffs. Or because the change was good business for the companies.

Anyway, the data seems pretty obvious:

Mapping the United States’ Korean Population

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: South Korea

I’ve often felt fortunate that I get to write about South Korea for the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that’s still interested in stories related to life, politics and culture here — not just the strongman to the North.

That interest is in part because the Times remains a serious paper that’s trying to stay committed to foreign news, but also because a decent portion of its readers are Korean. The Los Angeles metro area, for example, has more than 340,000 people of Korean descent, about a fifth of the overall Korean population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I’ve written before about South Korean expatriates overseas. These maps, however, show the population of all ethnic Koreans who have settled in Los Angeles and across the United States.

Let’s start with Los Angeles and a caveat: I may write for the Times, but I don’t yet know its geography (especially not like these fine folks).

This map shows Los Angeles County, which has about 230,000 people of Korean ancestry, according to the 2010* Census. The deep teal colors in the center of the county reflect the population of Koreatown, a neighborhood inside the city of Los Angeles. This place is legit Korean. There’s even a Paris Baguette! There are several suburban areas, such as Glendale, north of Koreatown, that also have a relatively high proportion of Korean residents.

This map shows the Korean share across the country, by county. Most counties have tiny proportions of Koreans. (My home county in East Texas had a grand total of 194 Koreans, or about 0.16 percent of its population). Other areas, such as Southern California, the mid-Atlantic coast and the New York metro area have comparatively large Korean populations.  

This map uses the same data set but a different visualization technique — proportional symbols, not shaded county boundaries. Larger symbols, or bubbles, represent a higher number of Koreans in raw figures, not proportions.

And, finally, here are two tables with the top 25 counties by both measures — proportion and population:

* I chose this data set because it was the last hard count of all Americans by the Census Bureau. The agency also conducts large, quality surveys between each decennial census, but detailed questions, such as specific ancestral or ethnic origin, can come with high margins of error at smaller geography levels. The hard count also isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we have for national county-level maps until 2020.

How Do We Solve North Korea? Yonsei University Students Have Ideas.

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics

I gave a guest lecture today to an East Asian international relations course at Yonsei University in Seoul. As part of the class, the more than 40 students participated in an exercise by answering this question about North Korea:

How do we address the North Korea nuclear issue?
1. Accept as nuclear state
2. Strike known nuclear targets
3. International sanctions
4. Suspend U.S. military drills
5. Diplomacy
6. Two of above: __ & __

Here are the results:

Assessing Global Health in Four Key Diseases

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Policy & Politics

While reporting on South Korea’s high suicide mortality rate recently, I discovered an unique data set maintained by the World Health Organization.

It contains the probability that residents in each country will die from four noncommunicable diseases between the ages of 30 and 70. These are diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory illness, heart disease and diabetes. They can offer clues about a country’s overall health.

This type of illness are often caused by “modifiable risk factors”, according to the organization, such as tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.

“This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

The probability ranges wildly by country and region. Papua New Guinea tops the list with a 36% probability that its residents will die before age 70 from one of these four diseases.

South Korea, which has the industrialized world’s highest suicide mortality rate, largely propelled by its elderly population, shares with Iceland the lowest probably rate: 8.3%.

The rate in the United States is 13.3%, below the global average from this study, which is 18.8%, but still wedged between Panama and Slovenia.

Here’s how the different regions (as classified by the organization) differ:

And here are the countries, separated by region and sorted by highest probability:

Image of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s Been a Hot Summer, Down Under

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Weather

My family is vacationing this week in Mosman, Australia, a harbourside Sydney suburb near Balmoral Beach known for its family friendly attractions and boutique shops.

This place is a great holiday spot. There’s only one problem this year, though: It’s been quite hot.

Sydney is normally relatively temperate during the summers, which occur opposite winters in the Northern Hemisphere. The average temperature in Celsius this time of year usually runs in the 25-degree range, or around 80 Fahrenheit. Today, though, was 35 degrees, or roughly 95 Fahrenheit.

Have I mentioned that our vacation home doesn’t have air conditioning?

We’ll somehow survive, but the heat did prompt me to scrape some weather data.

During the last month Sydney has experienced severe heat spikes, some of them eclipsing records and even fueling wildfires. Last January, typically the hottest month here, there was a similar pattern.

This chart shows the year in temperatures. The color bars show the range of each day’s highs and lows. The black step lines show historical averages. And the gray line shows the record highs.

America Imports Lots of Stuff from China, Including Christmas Decorations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance

Last year, the United States imported more than $460 billion in goods — clothes, toys, gadgets, you name it — from China. Of course, our Christmas decorations were on that list, too.

Some $2.2 billion in fake trees, miniature lights and assorted ornaments came from the Middle Kingdom last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s detailed trade database.

The Christmas trade in ornaments is big business. It skyrocketed in the mid-1990s (like all products from China) and dipped during the recession (like all products from China).

Here’s a simple chart:

Merry Christmas. 圣诞节快乐.