All posts by John Munoz

Unemployment Insight Dashboard for March 2010 shows troubling trend in long-term unemployed

This month’s update shows continued growth in the long-term unemployed population who now number 6.5MM. That’s an all-time high and equivalent to the entire population of Arizona (men, women, and children) being out of work. What will it take to start seeing reductions in this group? Have their jobs disappeared for good? In the coming weeks I will try to answer these important questions by working with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see if I can get more granular data about this population. Until then, you can find a good story about the long-term jobless here.

In addition, the industry section on the bottom right side of the dashboard shows many industries reversing the trend of increasing weekly work hours. For the last couple of months this section has been filled with blue bars showing growth, but this month, most of the bars are gray, showing contraction in average weekly hours of production. What does this mean?

I welcome your comments, both positive and negative. I especially want to hear your thoughts on improving this dashboard. In particular, I’m considering getting rid of and/or dramatically altering the bar chart on the left side of the dash showing the number of un/underemployed Americans. I think the scaling of the chart makes differences in the blue bars hard to pick up, I also don’t like the lack of context in the chart. Perhaps indexing it to 1 year ago might be better.

If you’d like to print out or save a copy of a beautiful, high-res, 11 x 17 pdf version of this dashboard, just click here.

Dashboard of Joblessness in the U.S.-March 2010

My Unemployment Dashboard ranks #1 in Google search. See why.

It’s taken me about 5 months to get there, but thanks to your help, my award-winning Unemployment Dashboard ranks #1 according to Google. I also rank #1 for the words, ‘Unemployment Insights’. I suspect the postings featuring my dashboard over at chartporn and vizworld have helped quite a bit. Thanks Chartporn & VizWorld! BTW, if you haven’t checked out either site, you should, they are filled with many excellent visualizations.

There’s a lot going on this month in the industry index section on the bottom right hand side of the dashboard. Many industries are seeing strong and continued growth in the amount of hours their employees are working. Expansion in these figures is a leading indicator of hiring down the road. In addition, to provide you with a bit more context, I’ve expanded the time horizon on the industry index section from the last 6 months to the last 12 months.

Something else I noticed this month is the divergence between the unemployment rate and underemployment rate (upper left-hand chart). The unemployment rate held steady, but the underemployment rate rose 1.8%, from 16.5% to 16.8%. That’s an additional half-million underemployed Americans. If you’d like to bone up on the difference between underemployment and unemployment, check out this link.

One other point worth noting is this month’s decrease in the percentage of long term unemployed. For only the second time this year, the percentage of those unemployed for more than 6 months fell. Granted, the decrease was very small, .3% or 50,000 workers.

I welcome your comments, both positive and negative. I especially want to hear your thoughts on improving this dashboard. In particular, I’m considering getting rid of and/or dramatically altering the bar chart on the left side of the dash showing the number of un/underemployed Americans. I think the scaling of the chart makes differences in the blue bars hard to pick up, I also don’t like the lack of context in the chart. Perhaps indexing it to 1 year ago might be better.

If you’d like to print out or save a copy of a beautiful, high-res, 11 x 17 pdf version of this dashboard, just click here.


Dashboard of Joblessness in the U.S.-Feb 2010

Unemployment insight dashboard for Jan 2010 shows 41% of all unemployed, 6.3MM people, out of work more than 6 months.

My dashboard of unemployment in the U.S. is updated with data from January 2010.

I’ve added sparklines to the Demographic section in the middle of the dashboard. Now, rather than just seeing where unemployment stands this month for a particular demographic segment, you can see where it’s been over the last 12 months. The sparklines on the left side of the demographic section all represent the unemployment rate over the last 12 months. The sparklines on the right show the percentage of total unemployed each segment represents over the last 12 months. For example, a value of 25% in the “% of total unemployed” column for the “White Women” segment means that White Women make up 25% of all unemployed.

It’s interesting to see the huge drop, 9.5%, in underemployment this month. Check out the small chart in the upper right hand side of the dashboard. We went from 9.1MM underemployed in Dec to 8.2MM in Jan 2010. That’s the first big drop in underemployment in at least 12 months.

The long-term unemployed population, however, continues to grow. Another 200,000 Americans added to the pile of 6.1MM Americans who’ve been jobless for more than 6 months. Those long-term unemployed are equal to the entire population of Tennessee. The NYTimes had an indepth story on the long term unemployed, they call them “The New Poor.” You can find that story here.

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be released this Friday, the 5th, so subscribe to my blog and you’ll get an email notifying you when the revised dashboard is complete.

As always, your feedback is welcome.

Click on the image to enlarge.

If you’d like a beautiful 11 X 17, crystal clear pdf of my dashboard, click here.

BTW, this dashboard was done using Excel 2007.

Dashboard of Joblessness in the U.S.-Jan 2010

Thoughts on “7 Rules for Dashboard Design” post on Dashboard Insight

This post addresses a post on Dashboard Insight’s site titled, “7 Small Business Dashboard Design Dos and Dont’s”

Hi Stacey,

I read your post with great interest, after all, who wouldn’t like to know the 7 rules of dashboard design? As soon as I got to the 19th word of your post, “colorful” I knew that we’d have some interesting differences in our viewpoints.

So let’s start with how you define a dashboard. I agree with most of your definition, especially the part about face-smacking insights. Certainly a useful dashboard should provide the reader with insights. But does a dashboard need to have “gorgeous colorful graphs?” I think not. In fact, if the dashboard designer uses too many colors in their graphs, they can kiss those face-smacking insights goodbye. I think it would be better to say that an insightful dashboard needs color use to be, restrained. The designer needs to be sparing with his/her use of color so that when color is used, the reader’s eyes are immediately drawn to the thing that the designer is emphasizing. Use color everywhere and it becomes meaningless.

I agree with your rule #1 (start with a few key business metrics, don’t waste time collecting everything), and whole-heartedly agree with your rule #2 (use basic tools that you already have). In fact, I’d recommend that most people, beginners and experts alike, use the combination of Excel with XLCubed. XLCubed gives the designer the ability to create very small and crisp sparklines, microbarcharts, bulletcharts, and other useful graphics.

Rule #3 could be summed up as two rules. First, use simple line charts. And second, don’t try to compare things (this month to last month) on your dashboard, it’s never a good idea.

I’m all for simple charts, after all, most complicated charts are a result lazy design (exception is Napeloeon’s march). A good dashboard designer takes the time to ensure that his/her charts are almost instantly insightful. Complex, hard to read charts are almost never instantly insightful.
The second part of your rule #3, that is, don’t make two point comparisons, really surprised me. The most insightful dashboards I’ve seen are ones where the reader can instantly see if a critical measure is above or below last month, or last year, or if a measure is over or under forecast. For that, you absolutely have to compare two points. Further, check out Stephen Few’s bullet charts. They’re all about comparing two things, actual to forecast, test to control, this to that, and that to this. In fact, one rule all dashboard designers might want to follow is to ask themselves this question when including a measure on their dashboard, “Compared to what?” I got that one from Stephen Few.

Rule #4 about Pareto charts, I’m just not a big fan. Yes, the 80/20 rule is an important one to know about, but the actual Pareto chart violates your first rule of rule #3, it ain’t that simple. Dual Axes with a line and a bar on the same graph just isn’t all that intuitive. I agree with your second rule of rule #4, no pie charts, although some info viz bloggers are pushing back against that one, like Jorge Camoes here.

Rule #5, don’t go all Picaso on it. Agree. I agree too when you say ‘limit your creativity to use of colours,’ so long as you mean that colours should be used sparingly and to call out the most important things to monitor on the dashboard.

Rule #6, Monitor your dashboard weekly. Agree 100%. Monitor that dashboard. After all, if you don’t check it out to see how things are doing, what good is it?

Rule #7, Get help from someone who’s ok with Excel and charting, not from someone who’s selling you the software. For most BI vendors out there, I agree with your assessment.

I applaud your efforts to put down rules for small business dashboard designers to follow. And your points about well-designed dashboards helping business owners monitor their businesses is right on point.

Lastly, there’s a small and passionate community of dashboard designers on the web. You can find some great advice from Stephen Few’s website. He’s also published 4 excellent books about information visualization, one focusing exclusively on dashboard design.


John C. Munoz

TinkerPlots, data exploration software for kids that’s all grown up.

I was blown away this morning when I watched two short movies about data exploration software called TinkerPlots. The software is marketed to schools for kids grades 4-8. I love the idea that kids in school can get their hands dirty visually exploring data. And I’m even more excited that they have this tool available to them. Why has TinkerPlots flown under our radar for so long? It’s been around for at least 4 years.

The designers of this software deserve praise for creating software that gets out of the way (a Stephen Few-ism, I think) and lets the user explore the data using simple commands. I will happily shell out the $89 to play with TinkerPlots.

Unfortunately, the Tinkerplot website makes it a bit difficult to see examples of the software in action. You can see some quicktime movies showing TinkerPlots at work here and here. Here’s a listing of all TinkerPlot movies.

This software isn’t nearly as sophisticated as some of the software mentioned on Stephen’s site. But, as da Vinci said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Is anyone out there using TinkerPlots?

Have bad graphs and faulty analysis led to evidence that Amazon has fake reviewers? Read on…

In my first post about Nick Bilton’s flawed analysis of the Amazon’s Kindle I left a few questions unanswered. One of those questions had to do with the ratings of the reviewers themselves. Since Amazon allows each review to be rated by anyone, it might be interesting to see if the number of people who found a review useful varied by the number of stars the reviewer gave to the Kindle. So I ran an analysis examining Kindle 2 reviews.

So here are 4 plots*. The first shows all reviews. Along the horizontal axis is the number of people reported to have found the review useful. Along the vertical axis is the star rating of the review. The plot on the upper right shows the same distribution, but for non-verified purchasers of Kindle2 only. The plot on the lower left shows the same distribution, but this time for reviewers who Amazon said actually purchased a Kinde2. The plot on the lower right brings the Amazon verified and Amazon non-verified purchasers together. Each red + sign is an Amazon Verified purchaser and each blue circle is a non-verified purchaser.

Four scatterplots

Evidence of fake reviews?

These four charts tell us an interesting story. Each point on the chart represents a review. So in each chart (except on the bottom right**) you’re seeing 9,212 points. The two charts on top are roughly the same. That’s because the first chart shows all reviews and the second one shows just the reviews submitted by non-verified Kindle2 purchases. You may recall that 75% of the reviews on the Kindle2 were submitted by people who Amazon said didn’t buy a Kindle2. So those dots dominate the charts. But take a look at the chart on the bottom left. You’ll notice that the cluster of reviews at the bottom of top two charts, the ones between 1 and 2 stars and stretching out all the way to the end of the X axis are gone. We knew that the non-verified purchasers were four times more likely to give a one star review compared to a verified purchaser, but we didn’t know that the 1 star non-verified reviewer were getting lots of people finding their reviews useful.

This dynamic really pops in the bottom right hand chart, the one with the red and blue lines in it. The blue line is made up of non-verified purchasers. As the number of people who said they found the review useful increases (starting around 8), the line dives down towards the 1-2 star ratings. The downward slope of the curve for the verified purchasers is much, much gentler.

This is a bit of a head-scratcher. I’ve heard people say that Amazon is full of fake reviews. These people aren’t saying that Amazon is the one doing the faking, but people who have some product that competes against the product being reviewed, or just people with an axe to grind. Is this an example of that? Do the fakers get their friends to say that their reviews are helpful? Maybe the Kindle2 verified purchasers post reviews that people just don’t find helpful. Right now, I don’t know what the correct answer is. But I have a feeling that some intelligent text-mining of the data will help flesh out an answer. Be on the lookout for a post about just that topic, by Marc Harfeld, coming soon, right here.

*To make the graphs easier to decipher I’ve excluded any review with more than 50 people finding the review useful. Taking the horizontal axis beyond 50 makes the plot very difficult to read. In all, this amounts to excluding 92 reviews out of the 9,304 I have gathered on the Kindle2. Because the star ratings are integers between 1 and 5, I needed to introduce a random jitter to the points (1 star becomes 1.221, another 1 star becomes 1.1321) so that they wouldn’t completely overlap each other on the scatterplot. I did the same to the values of how many people found each review helpful.
**Please note, to make an apples to apples comparison for chart on the bottom right, I had to reduce the number of non-verified reviewers down to the same number of amazon-verified reviewers. The sampling was a simple random sample, so it did not distort the distribution.

The Best insights into December’s Unemployment figures updated Now in this award winning information dashboard.

Last month the BLS revised their November 2009 unemployment number from a loss of 11,000 jobs to a gain of 4,000. That’s the first monthly gain in two years.

But December’s data came in showing job losses of 85,000, with the official unemployment rate holding steady at 10%. The underemployment rate moved up slightly, from 17.2% in Nov. to 17.3% in Dec. The most disturbing trend I’m seeing in the numbers is the long-term unemployed, those people out of work for more than 27 weeks. This group of out of work Americans now accounts for 40% of all unemployed people , or 6.1 million people. This group has grown by 135% in the last 12 months. Getting these long-term unemployed back to work is going to take a very long time.

Download a beautiful, high-resolution 11 X 17 pdf version here.

Dec 2009 dash-large

Dashboard of Unemployment in the U.S.

Pie Charts and faulty analytics in the NYTimes? Watch as the Biz Intel Guru fixes a seriously flawed blog post.

“Is Amazon Working Backward?” That’s the title of NYTimes blogger Nick Bilton post on Dec 24, 2009. Mr. Bilton is writing about Amazon’s product, the Kindle. Regarding the Kindle, he writes, “customers aren’t getting any happier about the end product.”

The day Mr. Bilton posted his story, best-selling author Seth Godin poked holes in it. Mr. Godin’s post is titled, “Learning from bad graphs and weak analysis.” Below is a brief listing of the serious flaws in Mr. Bilton’s approach. The listing is a mashup of Mr. Godin’s thoughts and mine.

1. Bilton should know better than to use pie charts because it’s really hard to determine the percentages when we’re looking at parts of a circle. Bar charts would’ve been much better. Stephen Few has stressed this for years. If you’re posting a chart in the NYTimes, you’d better have read your Stephen Few and Edward Tufte.
2. When your charts are the main support for your story, you’d better get them right. Mr. Bilton did get the table of numbers to the left of the pie charts correct. Perhaps he’d be better served by relying on them over the pie charts to make his point.
3. When you’re analyzing something, you shouldn’t compare opposite populations while ignoring their differences.

Mr. Godin cited 4 specific problems with the piece, ranging from the graphs being wrong (later corrected) to Bilton misunderstanding the nature of early adopters. In addition, Mr. Godin writes, “Many of the reviews are from people who don’t own the device.” Obviously, it’s hard to take a review of a Kindle seriously if the reviewer doesn’t own a Kindle. These are the different populations I’m talking about in item #3 above. I’ll address some of Mr. Godin’s concerns with Bilton’s post now and fill in some of the gaps that Godin left to be filled.

Mr. Bilton tried to make the case that each new version of the Kindle is worse than the one before it. His argument is based almost exclusively on the pie charts below, specifically, the gold slices of each pie. The gold slices are the percentage of one star reviews (lowest possible) each Kindle receives.

Here are the original 3 pies that Mr. Bilton showed in his post.

Despite difficulties in estimating the size of each slice in a pie chart, it is apparent that the 7% slice in the first pie chart is much larger than 7%. His corrected version is here.

Another problem Godin has with Bilton’s piece goes to the nature of early adopters. “The people who buy the first generation of a product are more likely to be enthusiasts,” writes Godin. The first ins are more forgiving than the last ins. I can’t really argue with that insight. My brother, an avid tech geek, is an early adopter of lots of tech gadgets. He was the first person I knew to buy an Apple Newton. I don’t recall a single complaint from him about the Newton, despite it not being able to recognize handwriting, which was its main selling point.

Mr. Godin’s claim that many of the reviewers don’t own a Kindle intrigued me the most. If I could quantify the number of one star reviewers who don’t own a Kindle then I could show the difference in one star ratings between the two groups, owners and non-owners.

I recreated the dataset that Mr. Bilton used for his analysis, 18,587 reviews in all. I also read up on how Amazon determines if a reviewer is an “Amazon Verified Purchaser.” Basically, Amazon says that if the reviewer purchased the product from Amazon, they’ll be flagged with the Amazon Verified Purchase stamp. So let’s see, do the one star ratings vary between the Amazon Verified Purchaser reviews compared to the non-Amazon Verified Purchaser reviews? Why yes, they do!

Amazon Kindle one Star reviews

Amazon Kindle 1 Star reviews

It’s clear from these charts that the reviewers who didn’t purchase a Kindle are much more likely to give a one star rating compared to the reviewers who Amazon verified as purchasing the Kindle. With each Kindle release, the non-verified Kindle owners were consistently four times more likely to give a one star review than the Amazon Verified Reviewers—the ones who actually purchased a Kindle. What’s up with that?

Let’s look at the reviews from the verified purchasers. The percentage of one star ratings each new Kindle edition receives doubles from 2% with Kindle 1, to 4% with Kindle 2, and then moves up to 5% with KindleDX. However, this evidence provides very weak support for Bilton’s claim that Kindle owners are getting progressively less happy.

What about the reviewers who are happy to very happy with the Kindle, the four and five star reviewers? Once again, the non-verified Kindle reviewers provide consistently lower ratings than the reviewers who actually own a Kindle. And once again we see the trend of the non-verified reviewers liking each new version of the Kindle less than the previous one. The four and five star ratings for actual owners of the Kindle jibe with Mr. Godin’s claim that the early adopters are more likely to be enthusiasts than those late to the game.

4 & 5 star Amazon Kindle Reviews

Four & five star Amazon Kindle Reviews

So there you have it, Mr. Godin’s hunches are correct!

What’s most interesting to me, though, is the fact that 75% of reviews of the Kindle aren’t made by people who own a Kindle. On my next post on this subject we’ll hear from a good friend of mine, and text mining expert, Marc Harfeld. We’ll mine the text of the 15,000 customer reviews looking for differences in the words used between the verified and non-verified Kindle owners. Perhaps that will shed light on this mystery. We’re also going to weight the reviews by the number of people who told Amazon that they found the review helpful. You’d think that a review that was helpful to 1 out of 3 people is different than a review that was found helpful by 18,203 out of 19,111 people, like this one.

Lastly, we’d love to hear suggestions from you on other next steps we might take with this analysis.

Thanks for reading.

November’s Real unemployment above 17% and 27 million Americans out of work, but there are bright spots. My dashboard shows you where things are starting to improve.

My award winning dashboard is at the bottom of this post

Last month real unemployment stood at 17.2% and 26.9 million Americans were out of work.

Right now I hear my savvy readers saying, “Wait a minute! The unemployment rate is 10%, and only 15 million Americans are out of work.” To you I say, ‘yes’, that’s one way of looking at things. In fact, there are at least five ways to look at the unemployment rate. That’s because the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports unemployment 5 different ways. The official unemployment number is reported in their U-3 statistic, which they adopted as the official rate in 1994. Before that, the official statistic was U-5. Here’s a link to a pdf from the BLS detailing the history of their different ways to measure unemployment.

The U-3 statistic includes unemployed people 25 years old or older expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force ages 25 and up. It doesn’t include “discouraged workers”. Discouraged workers are people who want to and “be available for work and have searched for work in the prior year, even though they are not currently looking for a job because they feel their search would be in vain.” I wonder if all the out of work autoworkers in Detroit who lost their jobs a year ago are measured in the U-3 statistic.

Moving to U-5. The U-5 measure includes the “marginally attached” workers, those people who have given up looking for work for reasons like child-care or transportation problems. These people could take a job if other things happened, like they got day care, or could catch a bus or a train to work.

Last, but not least, the U-6 indicator. It represents the people in U-3 through U-5 plus all people working part time for economic reasons, aka, underemployed workers. Here’s a quote from the paper from the BLS that I site above, “U-6 provides the largest conceptual break with the official measure of unemployment; it is expected to be useful to those who want a single measure to represent a general view of the degree to which existing and potential labor resources are not being utilized.” I like to start with that figure to help get things into focus and perspective–27MM out of 156MM Americans are out of work or working part-time and are underemployed.

The November update is showing lots of interesting things going on with the long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more). Also, be sure to check out the Industry section on the bottom right side of the dashboard where things are changing fast. Seventy percent of industries covered in the section reported an increase in weekly hours of production for November. Here’s the trend for the percentage of industries (there are forty reported by the BLS) seeing an increase in hourly production over the last 12 months, industry_bar. All of the statistics I report are seasonally adjusted, so this isn’t a pre Christmas bump.

Download beautiful, high-resolution 11 X 17 pdf version here.


Americans love their beer and wine, but we’re drinking less beer than before. See the big picture now.

Here are two interactive visualizations I put together showing beverage consumption, in gallons, from 1985 through 2007. The data are from the US Department of Agriculture.

There are a host of interesting things in the data. From 1985 through 2007 the biggest changes are:

–A sextupling in consumption of bottled water
–A 50% increase in diet soda consumption
–A 60% decrease in whole milk consumption
–A doubling in skim milk consumption

It’s interesting to see how beer consumption hovered around 24 gallons per person per year from 1985 through 1990 and then dropped off and leveled out at 21.7 gallons per person from 1995 through 2007. That’s an 11% decrease. Wine consumption, on the other hand, has had a roller coaster ride the over the last 12 years. In 1985 we were consuming about 2.4 gallons per person of wine per year. Then wine consumption bottomed out from 1993-1995 to 1.7 gallons per person. Since 1996, however, wine consumption has increased just about every year and now stands at 2.5 gallons per year, per person.

For this visualization, I thought I’d give Many Eyes a go and visualize some data using their stacked area chart and treemap visualization. The process of uploading the data to their site was a snap, and the visualizations were quite easy to do as well. In addition, embedding the visualizations on my site was a piece of cake, just copy and paste the code that they provide on their site and you’re done.

One thing they could do to enhance learning from their graphs is to enable linking of two chart types. For example, I’d love to be able to be able to select a cell in the treemap and see the corresponding area in the stacked area chart get highlighted.

Also, here’s a link to a good story in Slate about milk’s recent image problems in the U.S.