The above is an image from an interactive graphic my colleagues Susan McGregor, Mei Lan Ho-Walker and I (but mostly Susan) produced for the Online Journal. The actual version is here.
Basically, each of those little boxes represents a month. As the unemployment rate rises, the color in the box goes from green to red. You can see on the interactive version that our unemployment rate is still worsening but that it isn’t yet as bad as it was during the recessions of the 1980s. The graphic also allows you to see that unemployment often continues to worsen even after a recession is officially over — not necessarily good news for job seekers in the U.S.
The graphic itself is a new way to look at this sort of data over time. Usually, unemployment numbers are presented as a simple line graph, but the grid-and-color system allows you to provide more granular information in the same amount of space. By using colors instead of the Y axis to represent numbers, the graphic allows the Y axis to serve a new function. Each month is easily visible, and in addition to seeing its unemployment rate, the reader can click a button to see whether that month was officially part of a recession. Even more information, such as the dates of economic shocks or the political party in power at the time, may be added later.
Unfortunately, because this is not the way we are used to visualizing this type of data, it can take a few minutes to get used to the format, and this is something I think we’ll need to work on.