Fixing Dodgy Charts, Dodgy Interviews and Dodgy Zooming

Top of the Charts

Afternoon all,

We’re heading into that phase of an economic crisis where the stats start to confirm the pain households have been facing. Tuesday’s jobs stats demonstrated that fast-rising unemployment is hitting family finances – with 450,000 fewer employees in April and vacancies down 50 per cent – and today’s public finances update showed that April saw a new borrowing record (£62bn – three times the previous peak in the financial crisis).
Now, neither is surprising. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find them shocking. And you’ve got a three-day weekend coming, so plenty of time to mull on them as you meander through this week’s reads. Some might say time is better spent heading for the beach – but I’d passive aggressively respond that 1) we calculate that reading TOTCs boosts intelligence by 33 per cent* 2) if you want to end up on the front page of newspapers as the poster child for social distance failures be my guest…

Have a good weekend,

Chief Executive
Resolution Foundation

*based on an unrepresentative sample of 0 people

Secret Salaries. Given vacancies have basically dried up, job interviews might feel like the least of our worries right now. But we should still give them some attention because it turns out the questions we’re asking in them have impacts that last well beyond the interview. An interesting paper asks what difference banning interviewers from asking candidates about their previous salaries (which apparently happens 80 per cent of the time in the States) makes. Focusing on gender pay gaps, the authors’ answer is: quite a bit. In California, women over 35 saw a 2.3 percentage point increase in their earnings ratio vs. male colleagues. This rises to 5 percentage points for married women with children. So, it’s not just who you hire after an interview that matters for equality – but what questions you ask in it too.

Chart confusion. We love charts. Charts that people can actual understand are even better – which apparently does not include lots of the high-profile ones relating to infection and death rates during this pandemic. Rather perturbing research looks at the logarithmic scale charts that have become a familiar sight in the media. Now these are technically better given they’re illustrating exponential growth. The only problem is many people don’t have a clue what they mean. The research showed two groups the same information around death rates, one on a chart with a logarithmic, and the other a linear, scale. Only 40 per cent of those surveyed could interpret the logarithmic chart vs. 84 per cent for the linear chart. And it’s not just about whether people understand the chart – which chart they saw also affects their level of angst about the pandemic and support for different policy responses. So chart away people – but chart carefully.

Pandemic polling. It’s not a massively appealing time to be a world leader in a pandemic – really hard choices need making, and every detail of your lockdown life is very much on view. But better news for political top dogs comes in the form of this study from Europe which indicates that how the public judges them isn’t just based on what they actually do during the pandemic. By examining the very beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy – and its impact on support for incumbent leaders in (at that stage unaffected) France, Germany, Poland and Spain – the paper neatly illustrates how the arrival of a crisis boost support for existing leaders, irrespective of their actual performance in combating it. Good news for stressed politicians, maybe less so for democracy.

Zoom zoom zoom. Everyone is on a steep learning curve about how to deal with this new digital age – we’ve been wrestling with how to move our events programme online. For anyone that wants to learn from our failures/successes, our very own events guru Liberty York has you covered with a run down of advice for running webinars and virtual events.

Race for the prize. If you need a bit of “light at the end of the tunnel” feeling over the weekend pop over to this site that brings together details of the global rush to find medical answers to this virus. Can’t be bad news that 223 treatments are being considered and 141 vaccines are in development. Now all we need is for some of them to actually work…

Chart of the Week

For some light relief from Covid, this week’s chart revisits some economic history: inequality in pre-crisis Britain. You know the story that our official income statistics show – inequality increased rapidly in the 80s, and has been stable (but far too high) ever since. But there’s a catch with this story – how well does it capture the incomes of the super-rich? Not very well it turns out, according to innovative new RF/LSE/CAGE research that uses confidential HMRC tax returns to add capital gains to official income data. This makes a big difference, with taxable capital gains worth £55 billion in 2017/18, and the majority going to just 5,000 super rich individuals. As a result, the Top 1 per cent actually accounted for a sixth of the nation’s income. Now, obviously the crisis will have turned a lot of those gains into losses. But the story of the Top 1 per cent pulling away everyone else in good times, and to only fall back during major recessions is hardly satisfactory. And history is important for making sure you understand the (unequal) country we live in.