The 'Fiscal Cliff' explained in charts


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For a few weeks now, the Washington Post has posted a gallery of charts to help explain what is meant by the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ ( Although the 7 charts are a collection of simple bar charts, from a data visualization perspective they leave a lot to be desired. In this slide deck, I've redesigned all 7 charts.

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The 'Fiscal Cliff' explained in charts

  1. The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ explained in charts A critical review of a recent gallery of charts from the Washington PostJonathan A.
  2. The Set UpFor a few weeks now, the WashingtonPost has posted a gallery of charts to helpexplain what is meant by the ‘Fiscal Cliff’: the 7 charts are a collection ofsimple bar charts, from a datavisualization perspective they leave a lotto be desired
  3. The ChallengeThis slide deck contains my redesign of all 7charts.I followed 5 basic rules:1. Use the actual data2. Do not overly modify text or labels3. Use a single color scheme and font4. Only use Microsoft Excel5. Apply good data visualization principles
  4. Use the Actual Data(and do not add extra data elements)Except for Slide #6—”Sequester cuts tothe FEMA budget”—all of the data wereeither available on the source websites orin the gallery itself (for slide #6, I eyeballed thevalues)
  5. Do not overly modify text or labels(unless absolutely necessary)Even though some of the labels wereshorthand or incomplete, the objective ofthe challenge was to improve thevisualizations, not correct syntax
  6. Use a single color scheme and fontThe gallery is a collection of charts frommultiple sources (4 appear to have beenmade directly by Post staff) so the colorschemes vary as do the fontsA single design scheme can improve theappearance and clarity of the gallery(I use the ‘Corbel’ throughout)
  7. Only use Microsoft ExcelBecause many people use Excelextensively, I wanted to show thatcreating quality data visualization doesnot require complex software orknowledge of programming languages
  8. Apply good Data VisualizationPrinciplesMy redesigns incorporate simplestrategies: • keep data and labels close together • deemphasize tick marks, gridlines, axes (i.e., ‘chartjunk’) • where possible, include data directly on the chart
  9. Final NotesEach of the redesigned charts is preceded by acopy of the original chart, either from thesource website or as a screen shot from theWashington Post (hence the blurriness in someof the images)These redesigns are a start. Please feel free toadd comments to this SlideShare page orcontact me directly with thoughts, critiques,or suggestions
  10. A Detailed ParentheticalI just wanted to insert a detailed note about the first two charts fromthe Tax Policy Center (TPC). In the first chart, I chose to focus on thedistributional analysis and sacrifice the imagery of the rising averagefederal tax rate as incomes rise (that is, the height of the bars). I didn’tget much of the distributional story from the original TPCdistributional chart because it was just a mess of stacks and colors. Thesecond chart—Average Federal Tax Rates by Income Quintile—tells methat basic story more clearly anyways. An alternative approach wouldbe to use several small charts (‘small multiples’) and stack themtogether in some way, but I chose to stick to the spirit of the challengeand only redesign the single chart. Plus, had TPC made a series ofsmall charts, it’s not clear to me the Washington Post would havepicked it up.
  11. The ‘Fiscal Cliff’Explained in Charts
  12. Fiscal Cliff Components (Percentage) AMT Patch 2001-03 low/middle cuts Estate Tax Extenders Stimulus Credits 2001- High Income cuts2003 - High Income capital gains and dividends Health reform taxes Payroll Tax Lowest Second Middle Fourth Highest 80-99% Top 1% All Quintile
  13. Average Federal Tax Rate, by Cash Income Percentile, 2013(Percent)40 Increase due to tax changes 7.2 Baseline30 5.8 5.1 5.020 4.2 3.8 31.2 25.2 22.810 4.1 19.4 17.4 14.0 8.0 3.7 0 0.6 Lowest 2nd Middle 4th Highest 80-99% Top 1% All Quintile
  14. Size of Components of the "Fiscal Cliff"(Billions of dollars) Bush Tax Cuts 221 Payroll Tax Cut 95 Debt Ceiling Deal 65 AMT/Other 65Unemployment Benefit Expansion 26 ACA Taxes 18 "Doc fix" expiration 11 0 50 100 150 200 250
  15. Marginal Tax Rate Increase Under the Fiscal Cliff, by Income Bracket (Percent)Thousand <10 64.4dollarincrements 10-20 26.5 20-30 5.6 30-40 2.8 40-50 2.2 50-75 7.8 75-100 16.7 100-200 8.5 200-500 6.2 500-1,000 26.2 >1,000 16.4 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
  16. Economic Impact of Fiscal Cliff, Zandi Multipliers(Billions of dollars)500 435 Budget Impact Economic Impact400300 201 196200 181 158 150 130100 69 60 50 29 30 23 20 0 Tax Cuts Sequester Jobs Measures AMT Patch Tax Extenders ACA Taxes Doc Fix
  17. Sequester Cuts to the FEMA Budget(Millions of dollars)600 580400200 175 75 25 25 0 Disaster Relief State, local programs Salaries and expenses Emergency food, shelter Flood hazard mapping
  18. Effect on Fiscal Cliff Components on Deficit and GDP Effect on Deficit Effect on GDP (Billions of dollars) (Percentage) 24 Payroll /UI 0.4 40 Bush cuts (high) 42 Bush cuts (low/middle) 0.4 0.1 108 Nondefense 0.7Total Effect: Total Effect: $503 billion 2.9% 288 Defense 1.3
  19. Contact @jschwabish