Visualizing the U.S. Economy

Visualizing the U.S. Economy

CQ Economy Tracker
Devin Varsalona

As I write this on Tuesday evening, polling places on the east coast of the United States are beginning to close, and data from exit polls is beginning to stream into web sites, news rooms, and broadcast stations around the world. The emerging picture is not promising for the Democratic Party, which for the past two years has held the Presidency and both the Senate and the House. Riding a wave of populist anger, Republicans seem set to regain the House, and may retake the Senate as well, inviting governmental gridlock. Democrats appear doomed to spend the next two years in internecine combat with the opposition, having failed to convince voters that they are the best stewards of the country's future.

That failure is not for lack of trying. This Congress has been one of the most ambitious and active in history. In the past two years, it passed multiple acts of landmark legislation, reforming healthcare and the financial system, strengthening regulations on tobacco and pay-equity, heavily investing in science and education, and substantially expanding the AmeriCorps national service program. And, of course, it also passed a large and controversial financial stimulus package in response to the global economic meltdown of 2008--"The Great Recession."

More than any other, this catastrophic event is what has colored public perception of America's current political leaders, overshadowing any actions for good or ill that they have undertaken. Across the nation, economic pain from The Great Recession and its lingering aftermath are like an ocean--deep, wide, and all too easy to drown in unnoticed.

This visualization, produced by the CQ-Roll Call Group, quantifies that economic pain in a comprehensive and interactive form, encapsulating the economic strength of the nation. It includes data on gross domestic product, employment, housing prices, inflation rates, and income levels, collected over many years, updated live as new data comes to light, and organized on national, regional, and state scales. The picture it paints is grim, and, for these elections, all too prescient.

This week, as the electoral results are finalized and discussed, as a government is transformed, it would be worthwhile to compare the results to this economic data. Careful observers will note that the scars of recession graphically underpin many of this election's most momentous outcomes. And perhaps a few will trace the scattered and tender shoots of recovery, realizing that these are already setting the stage for the next election cycle of 2012. Lying latent here, concealed in the graphs and maps, is an outline of the forces that will soon shape the nation. Politicians will try to capitalize on them--hopefully the public will, too.

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