2011 in Charts, and What they mean for real people

I do love a good chart.

And these, from the Economic Policy Institute’s 2011 year-in-review, tell a very important story.

But, since I’m a social worker, it’s the human side of that story that interests me the most.

So I looked through these charts with an eye towards how they would look if they could walk into our offices and ask for help.

Because, in some way, they do.

So that “job seekers ratio” becomes the person with what used to be an adequate level of education (maybe a high school diploma, maybe a few years of college, maybe even a college degree) who now finds him/herself competing against three other people, some more experienced, for the same job, and who, in the meantime, struggles to support a family. And the desperation and depression that sets in after months of unsuccessful job searching.

The more than 18% of kids who had at least one parent unemployed or underemployed in 2011? Those are the kids wearing clothes that don’t fit, and staying after in our recreation programs in hopes of some extra food. They’re the kids with anxiety attacks because they’re worried about how their parents are going to make the rent, and the ones who have a dim view of the future, already, at age 9.

The data on too few job openings? Those reflect the mothers receiving TANF who have to go through the motions of searching for jobs that just aren’t there, in order to receive the money on which their children depend. They’re the ones we’re sending the message that jumping through hoops is more important than spending time with their kids.

When your clients tell the story of their own economics, what statistics do they represent? And how can we help people to see their fortunes as connected to economic structures, and forces, in which they are absolutely not complicit? And why does untangling those data–making them visible and making them real–matter?

What can we do, in this new year, to make these charts breathe, so that policymakers understand the urgency of the lives they represent?

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