Who hasn't been here?
You're sitting around a table, having drinks or a meal with friends, when someone drops the most incredible claim about taxes, government spending, schools, unions...whatever.
Because everyone has a computer in their pocket, the scene turns quickly from eye-to-eye conversation to one where faint blue light shines on everyone's face as the rush to discover the "truth" on a 3.5-inch screen commences.
There are many good sources on the Internet–along with many bad ones–but finding hard data still isn't the easiest task. Even more difficult is finding ways to put data into context, giving it meaning so you can actually win your argument.
For the past few months, my colleagues and I at the Institute for Truth in Accounting have been working on a tool that serves hard data clearly, providing ways for users of any skill level to compare and visualize information about state government finances.
Now online, the website is called State Data Lab.
Are you a journalist? State Data Lab provides a Chart of the Day that connects top news stories with the factors that may have caused them. For instance, when Standard & Poor's downgraded the State of Illinois's credit rating to A-minus with a negative outlook last Friday, State Data Lab posted a chart that offered an explanation: Illinois's debt on a per-taxpayer basis is four times larger than the U.S. average.
Or say you're a legislative staffer or think tank that needs more information on bonded debt. You can download data in Excel format on State Data Lab from a variety of sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census, Bureau of Economic Affairs, United Van Lines, and the National Center for Education Statistics, among many others. Begin by visiting the Data Download section. Plus, there's a Glossary that lists from where each data point comes, what it means, and how often it's updated.
The most common reason to visit State Data Lab is to make data appear understandable. Citizens without any formal data training can navigate to State Data & Comparisons to build a chart interactively from data on the website. That's how I built the chart above. You can compare states on a single point of data or make connections between data by selecting multiple points for a single state. Might higher state debt impact the percentage of doctors accepting new Medicaid patients? State Data Lab the place to find out.
State Data Lab is now open and free to use. It even works on your iPhone or Android, making it even easier to win those sticky arguments.
Thomas Jefferson once said, "An informed citizenry is the bulwark of democracy." Visit State Data Lab today to become better informed about what is really happening in your state and the country.
Filed under: Friendly confrontations
Tags: and the National Center for Education Statistics, Bureau of Economic Affairs, Bureau of Labor Statistics, credit rating, downgrade, illinois, institute for truth in accounting, medicaid, sheila weinberg, standard and poors, state data lab, U.S. Census, United Van Lines