The Best Insights into U.S. unemployment, revealed in this Award Winning Dashboard

At precisely 8:30am, on the first Friday of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Employment Situation report, the most anticipated report for stock, bond, and currency traders in the world. The report is analyzed by a wide variety of sources like CNN, WSJ, Bloomberg, NYTimes, Economy.com, AP, and MSNBC.

The Economic Situation report is critical because it covers the single most important factor in the world’s economy, employment in the U.S. Put simply, if U.S. consumers are losing their jobs, spending will decrease. And since household spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S.’s economy, any change in spending will have an impact on the rest of the world’s economy.

The Economic Situation report is important for another reason. According to Bernard Baumohl, author of the book, The Secrets of Economic Indicators, “Experts have a difficult time trying to predict the unemployment figures because so little other information is out yet for that month.”

With so much riding on this one report, the Business Intelligence Guru thought it the perfect area to apply his information visualization and analytical skills. After all, the data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are pretty lifeless–just a bunch of numbers in twenty different data tables. Trying to identify trends in such raw form data is difficult and time consuming. When high quality info viz is properly applied to such data, however, the fog lifts and insights come shining through.

The BLS tables contain different looks at employment and unemployment like:

  • Employment status by sex and age
  • Employment status by race, sex, and age
  • Employment status by education level
  • Unemployment by reason for unemployment
  • Unemployment by duration of unemployment
  • Average weekly hours of work
  • Average earnings (hourly/weekly) by type of industry
  • Monthly changes in employment

The challenge and opportunity here is to provide a clear, consolidated, and insightful view of related and relevant data from the BLS. The Economic Situation report for July 2009 contains nearly 1,000 words. The data tables in the report add approximately 300 data points to the document. But neither the text nor web version of the report on BLS’ website contain a single graph. It doesn’t take a Business Intelligence Guru to know that this is a ripe opportunity for a well-designed dashboard to shed light on. And so, The Business Intelligence Guru presents you with the “Insights into Unemployment in the United States” dashboard for July 2009.

Clicking the image of the dashboard (below) will get you a high-resolution version of it.

Dashboard of U.S. Unemployment

Dashboard of U.S. Unemployment

Lastly, I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my work, so feel free to leave suggestions and criticism.

Thanks.

–John

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4 thoughts on “The Best Insights into U.S. unemployment, revealed in this Award Winning Dashboard

  1. This is a really great idea and I’d love to be able to really see the graphs. I fiddled with font size but still am unable to view the graphs & statistics. Fonts are both small and very faint. Is this published anywhere else where it is more easily viewed?
    Thanks!
    Vickie

    1. Hi Vickie,

      Thanks so much for your note.

      If you click on the image of the dashboard you should be presented with a high resolution pdf of the dashboard. Try viewing it that way, if you haven’t already, and let me know if it’s still faint.

      I do have a jpg version that you can access here. To me, it looks only slightly crisper than the pdf version. You can click on the magnifying class in the upper right hand corner and then scroll around within the dashboard to see things up close.

  2. Congrats on getting Second in the MicroCharts Competition!

    I personally believe that your dashboard has more functionality and is easier to use but that’s personal opinion I guess.

    I do have a question as to why you arranged the visual as you did. It would seem that the Unemployment Rate, Leading Indicators, and Counting millions of unemployed could be considered your most important indicators (at least to me my view differs from yours of course).

    I really like what you have done with some very intensify and interesting data, even if you did use a Serif font (not a big fan myself).

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Great questions and observations.

      Your question about placement goes to where eyeballs search on a website. I did a fair amount of research on this before putting together my dashboard and bought into what this paper was selling. That is, that most people generally read a website in an ‘F’ pattern. So, I arranged my most important graphs along the left side and across the top. If I had this to do over again (and I do!), I will likely put the number of unemployed, perhaps shown in absolute numbers in YTD form, in the upper left hand corner of the dashboard. To me the absolute numbers are more impactful than the rate. I think the duration chart on the bottom left tells a very important story, and that is, that the long term unemployed are the largest percentage of unemployed right now, and are also growing at the fastest rate. That’s a problem. Also, the unemployment rate is obviously important, so that’s in the upper left hand position, even thought it’ll likely move in my updates.

      For practical reasons, this was a dashboard competition after all sponsored by a great company, XLCubed, that makes addins to excel, I wanted to feature some of their tools, so that’s part of the reason why I put in the sparklines and reference lines in the leading indicator section, which is also, arguably, a key section of the dashboard, and I should note, trending positive.

      I used the Times New Roman font because I read that it’s one of the better fonts when presenting very small print. I found that tidbit in Information Dashboard Design, Stephen Few’s wonderful book on how to create excellent dashboards, page 176.

      Thanks for the comments!

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