How Economic Data Has Been Distorted During Covid-19

How Economic Data Has Been Distorted During Covid-19

IDSC Director of Information Design, Data Communication, and Visualization, and author of the book “How Charts Lie”, Dr. Alberto Cairo, was interviewed by NPR’s on the proliferation of misinformation on the economic impact of the Coronavirus:

Another 1.1 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, according to the Labor Department, underscoring the slow road ahead for economic recovery.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, there’s been a proliferation of data as people pay greater attention to the monthly jobs reports and unemployment claims during this time of economic upheaval. In a series of recent tweets, President Donald Trump engaged in one his favorite pastimes: touting the strength of the economy. He cited job numbers, the stock market, and the housing market.

Some representations of data that have been floated around by news organizationsPresident Donald Trump and the Bureau of Labor Statistics depict job gains and losses in a line graph format, suggesting a massive economic recovery. (Trump’s chart also incorrectly shows a massive plunge in jobs occurring in late 2019, as opposed to the beginning of 2020.)

Trump Jobs Boom in Full Swing Chart tweet

The U.S. economy saw a record 20.7 million job losses in April this year, but an increase of 2.7 million jobs in May (revised upward from the 2.5 million the Labor Department initially reported), about 4.8 million in June and about 1.8 million in July.

Alberto Cairo, author of the book “How Charts Lie” and a journalism professor at the University of Miami, explained that a line chart isn’t the proper method to represent this type of data set.

“The line chart exaggerates the difference, because you were down there and now you’re here, and that represents a huge change. But the change is not that big,” Cairo said. “It is more clearly represented through a bar graph with a zero baseline, and bars going down or going up.”


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