U.S. vs. Eurozone GDP

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment


Economists closely watch the quarterly change in gross domestic product as a sign of a country’s economic well-being. A contraction (aka negative economic growth) in GDP for two consecutive quarters is the technical indicator of a recession.

Here’s the catch: the U.S. and Eurozone calculate the quarterly change differently. If you want to chart the figures together one set needs to be recalculated.

The details:

The U.S. expresses its GDP figures as a quarterly change at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, or what the quarterly rate would be if it continued for four quarters. The Bureau of Economic Analysis does this to make it easier to compare a quarter’s rate to rates in previous years. The Wall Street Journal chart above is a good example.

The Eurozone expresses GDP as a straight change from the previous quarter, not at an annual rate. See the chart below from the National Post.

If you want to compare Eurozone GDP to U.S. GDP your best bet is to recalculate the Eurozone GDP at an annual rate. I’m not going to step you through it, since the BEA already does an excellent job of it at this link:  http://www.bea.gov/faq/index.cfm?faq_id=122. You will need to get the quarterly GDP values (not the percentage changes) to make this calculation.



State gun laws

January 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

guns in america

The federal government enforces a few basic gun laws: you generally can’t have a machine gun or a silencer; you can’t buy a gun if you are crazy, you are a gun addict or have been convicted of a major crime; and you have to submit to a background check before you plunk down your money on a shiny Smith & Wesson. Beyond that, it’s up to the states to say whether you can conceal a gun, own super-size magazines or buy a bunch of rifles at once.

You face a mighty challenge sorting out these state laws for your readers with an infographic. I’ve found that the best way is to select your topic first—say, background checks at gun shows—and then compile a list of which states regulate it and to what degree. I used to get this info from The Brady Campaign, but then I discovered that they get their material from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Law Center keeps very good, up-to-date lists of state gun laws. You can find them here: http://smartgunlaws.org/search-gun-law-by-gun-policy/

Budget authority vs. outlays

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Federal budget documents often show the same spending in two different measures, “budget authority” and “outlays.” As an editor, reporter or infographics journalist, you need to know the difference between the two, or you will waste copious time figuring out which figures to use and why your numbers don’t match everyone else’s. Fortunately, the budget states clearly on every table and spreadsheet whether the numbers are calculated as budget authority or outlays.

So what’s the difference between the outlays and budget authority? Outlays for fiscal 2013 reflect the actual amount of money the federal government will spend in 2013. The outlays figure for 2013 includes some unspent money that was authorized in previous budgets and excludes some spending approved in 2013 that will carry over into 2014 and beyond. Budget authority for 2013 excludes any funding authorized in previous years but includes money authorized in 2013 that will carry over into the future.  If you are having a hard time keeping that straight, check out the diagram above, which comes from the budget concepts section of the federal budget, page 138.


So when do you use outlays and when do you use budget authority?

Use outlays when you are referring to the overall size of the fiscal budget for a given year or when you want to show the deficit or surplus.

Use budget authority when you want to show the effect that the administration’s policy decisions that year had on various agencies or functions of the federal government. Because it doesn’t count money approved in previous years, budget authority gives you a clearer picture of whether an administration is cutting or increasing funding for a department.
The two examples above come from the summary tables section of the budget, where you will find most of the top-line budget figures.


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