Monday, April 20, 2015

Marijuana In 24 Maps And Charts

As many across the country celebrate the unofficial marijuana holiday, Vox compiled 24 maps and charts that explain marijuana, its history, and the policies that surround it.

The visualizations are based on data from a variety of sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Economist, Gallup, the Pew Research Center, and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Those interested in the history of drug prohibition in the United States can find a timeline covering anti-drug laws and policies all the way back to the late 19th century in this related Vox article:

Read more: resources:
Respondants' perception of the Nation's progress in coping with illegal drugs (
Characteristics of Teen Substance Users: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The "Dark Figure" of Police Killings in the US

The recent killings of several unarmed black men by police have prompted outrage throughout the country.  Amid calls for sanctions and police training reforms, governments, policymakers, and researchers alike are scrambling to figure out just how widespread the problem is.  This is a tricky endeavor because "no one collects data that answers exactly that question. There is no national database that police departments are required to submit a record to when they complete an investigation after a police officer shoots a civilian."

The interactive map below is based on data from Fatal Encounters, a nonprofit trying to build a national database of police killings from reports from the public, media, and FBI. It shows some of the deaths by law enforcement since 2000.  The creator of Fatal Encounters estimates that the database captures only 35 percent of police killings.

The only official (i.e. governmental) source of data on police killings is the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR).  The SHR, published annually, contain information about "justifiable homicides," which can be used as a very imperfect proxy for police killings (note: there's no effort at all to record the number of unjustifiable homicides by police).

The SHR statistics are problematic for a number of reasons, as explained in this article by FiveThirtyEight:

  1. As is the case for the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the SHR rely on voluntary reports by police agencies.  But fewer local police agencies report SHR data than report standard Uniform Crime Reports data and some states, like Florida, don't participate at all.
  2. "Felon killed by police" refers narrowly to justifiable police homicides, and "unjustifiable homicide by police" is not a classification. This means it's difficult to combine unjustifiable police homicides — which could be listed as crimes elsewhere in the database — with "justifiable" police homicides.
  3. It's likely there are homicides recorded in the SHR that should be attributed to police as "justifiable" but aren't. And there's an unknown number of unjustifiable police homicides that aren't marked with any evidence of police involvement.
  4. If the legality of a police homicide is in question, it may not be reported to the SHR until the investigation is resolved. If the investigation concludes in a new reporting year, the old SHR data may not be updated, regardless of whether the killing was found to be justifiable or not. Criminology professor Geoff Alpert of the University of South Carolina, an expert on police violence, said he has "never seen a department go back and audit their numbers and fix them." (In a statement provided in response to emailed questions, the FBI confirmed that it generally does not reopen master data files to add or correct reports.)
  5. Killings in federal jurisdictions, such as federal prisons or military bases, are not included in the database.

As a result of these flaws, a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that official statistics under-count the number of people killed by police by more than half.  According to criminologist David Klinger (University of Missouri, St. Louis): "The available data (FBI, Vital Stats, BJS) are worse than miserable.  They suck and no one should do any sort of analysis with them beyond using them to say that we have some floor [regarding] shootings and perhaps note that there are all sorts of circumstances involved when shootings occur."

The SHR do contain some information about the demographic characteristics of both victims and perpetrators of homicides, as well as the circumstances surrounding the homicide.  For example, there are six different subcategories of "felon killed by an officer": attacking the officer, attempting flight, killed in the commission of a crime, resisting arrest, ... However the reports often rely on the word of the officer involved in the killing and contain no information about whether victims were armed when killed by police.

It difficult, if not impossible, to know the actual level of racial disparities in police use of force, but an analysis of SHR "justifiable homicides" in 2012 suggests that victims of "justifiable homicide" are "overwhelmingly male, heavily young, disproportionately black," and that the majority were not attacking anyone when they were killed.

Note: The dark (or hidden) figure of crime is a term employed by criminologists and sociologists to describe the amount of unreported or undiscovered crime.

Read more: resources:
Gun Violence in America (
Fear of Crime (
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Crime and Victims Statistics (

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Hidden Costs Of Low-Wage Work In America

According to a recent report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, poverty-level wages cost U.S. taxpayers $152.8 billion each year in public support for working families.  The Labor Center used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey (CPS) and administrative data from the Medicaid, CHIP, TANF, EITC, and SNAP programs, to calculate the cost to the federal and state governments of public assistance programs for working families.

Three quarters of the people enrolled in government assistance programs are members of working families, driven to rely on public assistance by stagnating wages and the decline in employer-provided health insurance.  Inflation-adjusted wage growth has been flat or negative: the wages of the bottom decile of earners were 5 percent lower in 2013 than in 1979, and "inflation-adjusted wage growth from 2003 to 2013 was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution."  At the same time, "the share of non-elderly Americans receiving insurance from an employer falling from 67 percent in 2003 to 58.4 percent in 2013."

The federal government spends about $127.8 billion per year, and states collectively spend about $25 billion per year, on public assistance programs for working families.  "In all, more than half—56 percent—of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families," the Labor Center explains.  When working families have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet, the cost of low wages is borne by the American taxpayer.

The report concludes:
When jobs don't pay enough, workers turn to public assistance in order to meet their basic needs. These programs provide vital support to millions of working families whose employers pay less than a liveable wage. At both the state and federal levels, more than half of total spending on the public assistance programs analyzed in this report—Medicaid/CHIP, TANF, EITC, and food stamps—goes to working families.
Higher wages and increases in employer-provided health insurance would result in significant Medicaid savings that states and the federal government could apply to other programs and priorities. In the case of TANF—a block grant that includes maintenance of effort (MOE) provisions that require specified state spending—higher wages would allow states to reduce the portion of the program going to cash assistance while increasing the funding for other services such as child care, job training, and transportation assistance. Higher wages would also significantly reduce federal expenditures on the EITC and SNAP. Overall, higher wages and employer-provided health care would lower both state and federal public assistance costs, and allow all levels of government to better target how their tax dollars are used. (Emphasis added)

Read more: resources:
Topics At A Glance: Poverty (
Children in Poverty Course Module (
Differences in Social Class Status and Poverty Levels Among Older Adults in the United States (
Race and Poverty in the United States (
Poverty and Young Adults (
Investigating Children in Poverty (
Poverty (
Gender, Education, Family, Poverty, and Race (

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Nuanced Picture Of Public Opinion About Climate Change In The U.S.

A research team at Yale University has created an online interactive tool called "Yale Climate Opinion Maps," which allows users to explore differences in public opinion about climate change in the United States.

The maps are based on national survey data gathered between 2008 and 2014 by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication. Using new statistical techniques, the researchers are able to provide estimates of U.S. climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, and policy preferences at the state and local (congressional districts, counties, and cities) levels.

The maps suggest that while Americans know that global warming is happening, there is significant variation between and within states in the level of concern about global warming: concern ranges from an estimated low of 38 percent in Pickett County, TN, to a high of 74 percent in Washington, D.C. In Texas, only 39 percent of King County residents are worried about the phenomenon, compared to 61 percent of Travis County residents.

Few Americans appear to believe that human activities are driving global warming, and fewer still are aware of the scientific consensus about climate change.  Nevertheless, many support funding research into renewable energy sources and regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

Read more: resources:
Attitudes about Global Warming in the United States: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Global Annual Temperature Scenario: 2050 (
Global Sustainability Curriculum Finder (

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Like Moths To A Flame: Americans Continue To Be Attracted By The Sun Belt

The U.S. Census Bureau's newly released population estimates show that "Americans have resumed the westward suburban migration of the early 21st century, before the Great Recession came crashing down."  The fastest growing metro areas in the country stretch along the Sun Belt from the Carolinas down through Texas and up into the west toward the Dakotas.

Houston, Dallas, Austin, Phoenix, Denver, and San Antonio are the cities with the highest levels of net domestic migration since 2010.  Among the nation's top 50 numerically gaining counties, 11 are located in Texas, 10 in California, and 7 in Florida.

As the New York Times points out, these migration patterns appear to be associated with a desire for good weather, affordable housing and good job opportunities. "Last year, for example, places where the average January high temperature was over 60 degrees added population at more than six times the rate of places where the average January high was below 35 degrees."

Read more: resources:
State to State Migration (
Census Flows Mapper (
Net Migration Statistics (
Percentage of the Labour Force 15 Years and Over, Who Lived in a Different Province or Territory 5 Years Ago by 2006 Census Divisions (CDs) (
"Global Migration Patterns" Lesson Plan (
Residential Mobility and Migration (
Migration Service Learning Plan (

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Changing Religious Profile of the World

New population projections produced by the Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project suggest that the religious profile of the world is changing rapidly.  The Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world.

Using the current size and geographic distribution of the world's major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion, researchers at the Global Religious Futures project modeled population changes to 2050.  Their results show that, based on current demographic trends, by 2050:

  • The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
  • Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
  • The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
  • In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
  • India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
  • In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
  • Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The researchers attribute much of the worldwide growth of Islam to a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates, particularly in developing countries where infant mortality rates have been falling.

Readers interested in religious topics and questions should explore the Global Religious Futures Project website (, which covers a wide range of questions related to the topic of global religious trends, provides customizable interactives, and allows users to download data and share visualizations in various ways.  The data currently in the Global Religious Futures database includes:

  • Data on characteristics of the populations of 234 countries and territories in 2010 and projected through 2050
  • Data on research questions related to government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in 198 countries and territories
  • Select questions from two extensive public opinion surveys that cover more than 40 countries

Read more: resources:
Religion and Opinions on Democracy in Ghana: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Religion among Teens: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

19 Other States Have Enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Legislation, So Why The Fuss Over Indiana?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) has signed a bill into law that would allow businesses to refuse service for religious reasons.  Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has attracted much attention and drawn fierce criticism.

Some, as Washington Post's Hunter Schwartz, have suggested that the outrage over Indiana's new law is overblown.  Using data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Schwartz and others have pointed out that 40 percent of the states, and the federal government, have RFRAs on the books.  The federal RFRA was passed in 1993.  It prohibits the "government from 'substantially burdening' individuals' exercise of religion unless it is for a 'compelling government interest' and is doing so in the least restrictive means."  While the U. S. Supreme Court decided in 1997 that the federal RFRA did not apply to the states, 20 states have since enacted their own RFRAs.  It appears, then, that Indiana's RFRA is no different from the RFRAs that were passed in 19 other states without drawing the same level of attention or criticism.

As the National Conference of State Legislature website states however, "these [state] laws are intended to echo the federal RFRA, but are not necessarily identical to the federal law."  This is the case for Indiana's RFRA, Garrett Epps, of The Atlantic, explains.  The Indiana statute differs from the federal RFRA and most state RFRAs in two important ways:

  • "First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to 'the free exercise of religion.' The federal RFRA doesn't contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina's; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs."
  • Second, "the new Indiana statute states that 'A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.'  Neither the federal RFRA, nor 18 of the [other] 19 state statutes [...] says anything like this; only the Texas RFRA, passed in 1999, contains similar language."

In effect, these provisions ensure that businesses can use Indiana's RFRA against civil-rights suits brought by individuals.  This is a significant departure from existing federal and state RFRAs, because as Epps explains:
"this new statute hints most strongly that it is there to be used as a means of excluding gays and same-sex couples from accessing employment, housing, and public accommodations on the same terms as other people. True, there is no actual language that says, All businesses wishing to discriminate in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, please check this 'religious objection' box. But, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, 'Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.'  [...] The statute shows every sign of having been carefully designed to put new obstacles in the path of equality; and it has been publicly sold with deceptive claims that it is 'nothing new.'" (emphasis added)

Read more: resources:
Age and Attitudes about the Rights of Homosexuals: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (