Seeing the Big Economic Picture

I?ve always been someone who enjoys looking at maps, charts, and graphs. They give visual pictures of what’s going on and help us to see what we don’t normally see, like the big economic picture.

Catherine Mulbrandon has a fascinating website,, where she presents sometimes complex economic data in an easier-to-understand visual format. Want to know how much the average worker makes based on their occupation and education level? Mulbrandon illustrates with a very colorful example:

Obviously, the higher the worker?s education, the higher their income is likely to be. That doesn?t necessarily mean you?re condemned to a life of poverty is you don?t have multiple degrees ? you can see there is still a diverse spread in the ?less education? categories. In fact, the percentage of American workers with advanced and/or professional degrees is actually fairly small, based on the next chart.

One thing that is interesting to note, however, is that those with lower-paying jobs with fewer educational requirements may have to ?keep on their toes? more often with their vocations. The job market is proving to be more volatile for those on the lower rungs. Note how from 2001 to 2011 there already was a decline for cashiers and retail salespeople, and with all kinds of talk in the news lately about the coming ?retail apocalypse,? there?s no telling what may happen in the next few years.

Mulbrandon isn?t the only one who has put together stunning visuals to show the current state of our economy. Andrew Van Dam and Renee Lightner of The Wall Street Journal have put together an interactive map showing which sectors of the economy gained and lost jobs from 2008 to the present. (Source: Track National Unemployment, Job Gains and Job Losses.)

Interesting to note that during the 2008 recession, the industries that got hit particularly hard were mining and logging, construction, and durable goods manufacturing ? though as of March, 2017, all these industries are again in positive territory.

As many of you know, consumer spending is the primary driving force of our economy. has another graph on how Americans have typically spent their money over the last 75 years:


Americans continue to spend more than ever on health care, education, and housing, while food and clothing expenditures have seen substantial declines. Some have argued, however, that the quality of our food and our clothing have gone down during this time frame as well.

Want to see where everything (well, almost everything) goes with the average American paycheck? The Department of Labor has a comprehensive list:

(Source: )

As you can see, daily life in the United States can get pretty expensive, although there are numerous ways one can pare down their expenditures.

What about you, readers? What other interesting economic data have you come across?

2 Responses to Seeing the Big Economic Picture

  1. Interesting in that chart by labor department that it shows two items effecting costs which are the hardest to cut. One is housing– hard to fix because housing costs are based on location and getting a cheaper housing costs means that you raise the second highest costs which is transportation.
    The cheapest way for transportation is hopefully using public transit services but that means relying on services being available when and where you need them. Good luck getting reliable service if you are in an essential service job because public transportation is effected by various reasons.
    You can keep all nonessential costs down but these two effect budget the most and we have no real control over increases in these areas.

  2. I completely agree Maria. It’s a conundrum, pay one way or pay the other. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the closer-in location with the higher housing costs. There’s a hidden cost with transportation, and that’s the time factor. If you have to spend an hour each way driving into work, you’re not earning money for that investment of time. You’re talking 10 hours a week commuting, and that’s like a part-time job by itself. Plus, you have to replace your car more frequently, after putting so many miles on it. Then you’re also subject to the variables of bad weather and car breakdowns (cost of repair, plus finding alternate transportation, if it’s even available).

    There’s another factor that I’ve always considered with long commutes. That’s what happens if you lose your job and need to get a new one? If you’re living away from the job market, you’ll have to get another remote job, maybe one that’s even farther away.

    Yeah, I’d go with living closer to work. There are more options, even if the net cost is the same as the closer-to-work/higher-housing-costs arrangement.

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