Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 4 Update: Corrections and Welfare Issue

On March 22, user James filed the following report:

I have noticed what appears to be an anomaly in the S&L data.. For example, in the "Protection" series, inflation adjusted S&L spending jumps from $55 bn to $118 bn between 1991 and 1992. Healthcare increases from $116 bn to $212 bn. At the same time, welfare spending drops for these years from $208 bn to $114 bn. Most other indicators for S&L spending between 1991 and 1992 also show uncharacteristically large changes, although not of these magnitudes. I suspect there is something wrong with the data for those years.
I found that there are two problems here that arise out of a "seam" in the data, the transition between a fine-grained US Census Bureau dataset that starts in 1992 and the table "State and Local Governments -- Summary of Finances" that appears in the annual Statistical Abstract.
  1. Before 1992, the Census Bureau doesn't list "Corrections." So there's a hole in Protection.
  2. Before 1992, the Census Bureau lumps all welfare--cash, social services, and health care--as Public Welfare. At we like to keep health care separate from welfare. So before 1992 the Welfare category suddenly includes a bunch of health care.
To solve these problems we have made the following changes to
  1. We've created a new data view called "census." This new view arranges data pretty well according to the categorization in the Census Bureau tables published in the annual Statistical Abstract entitled "State and Local Governments -- Summary of Finances" and "All Governments -- Revenue and Expenditure, by Level of Government." This new view will experience a minimum of jumps and "seams."
  2. We've added views to the data-series Chart function. Up till now you could only chart the "default" view.
  3. We've unpacked the census category "Public Welfare" by subtracting the Federal line item for payments to Medicaid vendors. There is data on Medicaid payments to states in the president's budget's historical data Outlays spreadsheet going back to 1962. In the default this line item will be counted as health care. In the "census" view it will be counted as welfare.
  4. We've found a line item for Corrections in the Statistical Abstract "All Governments" table at the state and local levels. This item continues in the pre-1970 Bicentennial Edition, but only at the state level. We have done a bit of massaging and produced a Corrections data series from 1902 to 1991.
  5. We've also cleaned up some holes in the Other Spending category so that the numbers add up properly.
Many thanks to James for identifying the problem at the "seam." Oh yes. We are also adding this blog to the menu system.

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