The Wall Street Journal claims federal employment, excluding postal workers, is the “lowest total in seven years” and includes the following chart.
Because this is a surprising factoid, I posted it on Facebook. After receiving a comment that 1.6% is probably off by a decimal, I started to question the data. I headed off to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ web site to see if I could duplicate the WSJ’s chart.
Here is the BLS chart of federal employment excluding postal workers.
This doesn’t match the Wall Street Journal’s chart, not even close. Yeah, there’s the huge bump for World War II, but the trends don’t match. This chart shows federal employment steadily increasing until the early ’90s instead of generally decreasing since the mid-’50s. That’s when I noticed that the Wall Street Journal plotted federal workers as a percentage of total non-farm employment, not as an absolute number.
So, what is total non-farm employment? Here is the BLS chart of non-farm employment, which shows a steady rise until the turn of the millennium.
Now, all I need is an easy way to divide the first chart by the second chart…
Getting both data series using the BLS series report tool wasn’t that hard. Nor was creating a spreadsheet that contained both and then dividing government employment by total non-farm employment. Surprise — the Wall Street Journal didn’t slip a decimal.1
Now for the chart I created:
Ha! Looks pretty close to the WSJ’s.2 Good to know. :-)
1At least, not in the chart. The WSJ article’s first paragraph reads, “21.9 million: The number of government workers in the U.S. in January, the lowest total in seven years.” That first number is off by a factor of ten. It should be 2.19 million. 2The blips every ten years in my chart are probably census employees, which the WSJ eliminated from its chart…somehow.
Former President Bill Clinton said Friday that disasters such as worldwide famine and an obesity epidemic could destroy the U.S. health care system unless politicians begin to look ahead and cooperate. (Source.)
It brings to mind the joke about the statistician with one hand on the hot burner and the other in the icebox: “On average, I feel fine.”
Have you ever wanted to see a chart showing how carbon dioxide emissions, internet users per 1000 people, and phone users per 1000 people have interacted over the past 30 years? Go ahead, raise your hand. It kept you awake last night. Okay, so maybe that’s not the best example. How about charting child mortality vs. contraceptive use? Gapminder comes to your rescue, and with a bunch more data.
Gapminder is a non-profit venture developing information technology for provision of free statistics in new visual and animated ways. Goal: enable you to make sense of the world by having fun with statistics. Method: turn boring data into enjoyable interactive animations using Flash technology. Gapminder is a Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Funding has been mainly by grants from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. In collaboration with United Nations Statistic Division Gapminder promote free access to searchable public data and all animations of different types of data are freely available at www.gapminder.org. (Source.)
A one-minute demo is available, but be prepared to spend more time than that exploring.