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Three tips for telling economics stories through data-rich graphics

income-inequality graphic

This is part of a graphic at MotherJones.com that shows the average CEO's pay is 185 times bigger than that of the average worker.

Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot of Mother Jones explored income inequality in the United State through a series of graphics. Among other things, they compared Congress members’ net worth to average Americans, noting the odds of being a millionaire in Congress is 1 in 2 versus 1 in 22 for average Americans. The graphics also compare average CEO pay to average worker pay and tax rates.

Dave offers three tips for using data in graphics to illustrate economic points:

1. Cast a wide net.

Dave Gilson, Mother Jones

Dave Gilson

Dave says search for previously published stats and graphics and track down the data behind them. “This is essential if you want to recreate an existing graphic, but it also can reveal other, more useful data and sources,” he says. “A lot of good stats and data leads are buried in business/economics reporting as well.”

2. Dig into the data.

Download or request original data and play around with it to see which set or slice is most relevant, informative, or surprising, he says. “For every chart we ran, I mocked up one or two more that didn’t run.”

3. Keep charts simple.

Dave worked with the art director to create the graphics. He says they did a lot of back-and-forth to determine the best way to present the information clearly. In the end, they relied on traditional bar and line charts, and one chart that showed the richest Americans’ incomes.

In Economy, Featured.

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