Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another caution in chart interpretation

From the Atlantic's Derek Thompson, a graph showing youth unemployment in Europe, with particularly high numbers in Greece and Spain. He's pulled numbers from a Eurostat report. Without knowing more, it's hard to tell whether he's cherry picked data or not. To his credit, he explains what, exactly, he's graphing:
Here's what the graph doesn't tell us: That a majority of Greek and Spanish young people don't have a job. Unemployment is a ratio: Unemployed people / the workforce. If you're in school or not actively looking for a job, you're not counted in the unemployment rate. As a result, the same number of unemployed young people will yield a higher rate with a smaller workforce. A different ratio calculated by the BBC with Eurostat figures -- unemployed youths as a percentage of the whole youth population -- yields a 19% figure for Spain and a 13% figure for Greece.
Here's what the graph does tell us: Young workers in Greece and Spain are facing an absolutely egregious work drought, where half of high-school and college-graduates ready to find a job aren't finding one.
But when you look at the full report, you can see he's omitted the countries with lower rates of youth unemployment. You can infer that they must be there, since the EU average is so much lower than the rates for Greece and Spain. It would have been nice to see them (they are: Germany, 8.1%, the Netherlands, 9.4%, and Austria, 9.7%.) There's also no source listed for the US data. So the bottom line is, be cautious.

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