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Created: March 1, 2003
Latest Update: March 1, 2003
Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, March 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.
This essay is based on a New York Times article from March 1, 2003, in which a survey of people's perspectives of jobs is reported with a chart: Tight U.S. Job Market Adds to Jitters Among Consumers By Alex Berenson, Business Section, at p. B1. Backup.
Backup of Chart on Survey of Feelings about the Job Market,
New York Times, Business Section, March 1, 2003, at p. B1.
This is a good example of the kind of chart that you will need to read as an intelligent commentator on your own society. Notice what the variables are on the X and Y axes. Notice what the title tells you. Notice what the labels tell you. A good chart should be readily interpretable from the chart itself. Thus, if you learn to read charts with ease, you will find that you can merely skim the related text, speeding up your scanning of the article. A good skill to acquire.
Also bear in mind that advertisers and sales persons often use charts no more complex than this, but try to fool you into thinking that an understanding of the situation is complex. If you master some of these basic statistical tools, you will gain the respect of the person running the sale scam. Sorry, "scam" is a pejorative word, and in academic writing I shouldn't use it. So this alerts you to my bias against advertising and sales and the fraudulent claims that befuddle the public and make them profit.
- Does the title of the chart tell you what the chart is about?
Consider whether the title tells you who or what was measured? If you have a "what" and not a "who" the title is incomplete. You have to read further to understand the chart. I'd give you a B for a title like that.
- What was measured in this chart?
Consider that "jobs" and "pessimism" are in the title.
- Whose pessimism was measured in this chart?
Again, I'd only give a B for this. The label under Pessimistic About Jobs says that "people" were surveyed. Consider the question of "who" those people are. Then the title of the article says "consumers" are jittery? So who was actually surveyed? These are questions that I would require to be answered on the chart itself for an A. On the other hand, the newspaper wants to get you to read the article.
- What's on the X axis?
Consider that most things, especially something like job access, will be measured over time. Is it better now, or worse, than it was five years ago, for example.
- What's on the Y axis?
Consider that the column is marked as a percentage. Consider that the column label tells you this was a consumer confidence survey, so you've got a better idea of who was surveyed. Not people looking for jobs, but consumers and their sense of confidence about the job market. Consider that the graph has two lines, one labeled "Jobs are hard to get," one labeled "Jobs are plentiful." I'd give an A for that portion of the chart. Just by perusing the chart you can tell what was asked of whom.
- If 30% of the people responding to the survey answered that "Jobs are hard to get," and 10% answered that "Jobs are plentiful, how many people answered the question altogether?
Add together the % that answered "Jobs are hard to get" (30%) and the % that answered "Jobs are plentiful." (10%) The sum of those gives you the % of the people who answered the question since the graph only shows those two possible answers. Since the variable is measured in % of those responding, subtract the sum (40%) from 100%. The chart doesn't account for whether the other 60% weren't asked the question, or refused to answer, or just didn't have an opinion. I would give you a C on this portion of the chart for failure to clarify these issues. Hopefully, if in a city council meeting, or if trying to understand the job market in your own area, you would challenge anyone presenting this chart to answer those questions. If they can't, don't trust them. It's a sham.
Notice that the answer is in the textual component of the article:"
Concern about the job market is only partly reflected in the unemployment rate, which fell to 5.7 percent in January from 6 percent in December. Each month, the Conference Board, a private research group, asks people whether they view jobs as plentiful, not plentiful or hard to get. In February, 11 percent of people said jobs were plentiful, while 59 percent said they were not plentiful and 30 percent said they were hard to get, the group announced this week.
Those are the bleakest assessments since December 1993, and a sharp decline since President Bush took office two years ago. Then, 49 percent of Americans viewed jobs as plentiful, while 38 percent said they were not plentiful and only 13 percent said they were hard to get."
- Good presentation of statistical material demands that you present your visual results (charts, graphs) clearly enough that the reader may rely exclusively on the visual. Good presentation also requires that each visual be accompanied by a textual explanation that is sufficiently complete that the reader could obtain all information without resorting to the visual. i.e., The visual and textual representations of your data and results should be interchangeable. Now write or explain orally, a textual interpretation of this graph. Compare to the text of the article.