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Friday, October 19, 2007

Confusing graph definition


I'm a fan of the blog "Junk Charts", which attempts to show (and improve) bad media graphics. This one almost fits that category. It's not so much the graph itself as the caption.

At first, I took this to be the Poverty rate among people who make less than 60% of the median income. The interpretation here would be "among people who make substantially less than average, how many of them are actually in poverty"?

But now I think it might just be a graph of how many people make less than 60% of the median income, with this arbitrarily defined as "poverty" -- definitely a pure relative definition of poverty, rather than an absolute one.

The article itself isn't much help, and doesn't seem to refer to the graph at all.

This article is on the front page of today's WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119273795569263815.html

The article also contains this interesting calculation: "His monthly benefit checks cover him for only about 20 days, he says. Toward the end of each month, he comes to the soup van to avoid going to bed hungry. "I'm lucky, I don't drink," he says. "Others here do and they run out of money on day 10."" Taken literally, this is one heck of a lot of drinking.

The article itself describes a phenomenon familiar to all those who work in places which serve meals for the poor (or even do a few meals a year at such a place, as I do): At the end of the month, there's a much bigger clientele. There's too much month at the end of the money. It's a bit new in modern Germany, and reflects a winding down of the welfare state.