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Graph of the week

- March 8, 2010

Brendan Nyhan links to this hilariously bad graph from the Wall Street Journal:


It’s cute how they scale the black line to go right between the red and blue lines, huh? I’m not quite sure how $7.25 can be 39% of something, while $5.15 is 10%, but I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation . . .

Follow the above link for more details. As Brendan notes, the graph says essentially nothing about the relation between minimum wage laws and unemployment (“Any variable that trended in one direction during the current economic downturn will be correlated with the unemployment rate among teens or any other group.”) and he also helpfully graphs the unemployment trends among the general population, which has a similar upward trend.

This is not to say that increases in the minimum wage are necessarily a good idea–that’s not my area of expertise. I’m talkin here about a horrible graph–all the worse, I fear, because of its professionalism. The above graph looks legit–it has many of the visual signifiers of seriousness, looking similar to a newsy graph you might see in the Economist, rather than like a joke graph of the sort identified with USA Today and parodied so well by the Onion.

P.S. I have no problem with the use of a crisp graph to make a political point; see for example here or here.

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