Instead of looking at unemployment rates across the 50 states plus D.C., we can look at patterns of the ranking of the states instead. Such rankings are most effectively visualized as multi-period bumps charts.
Funny thing... the variations in rankings over time are very severe! So much so that if all 50 states are plotted on the same chart, we get a complete entangled mess.
Here, I restricted the time period to 2000 onwards, and only the January unemployment rate for each year is plotted. Otherwise, the mess gets messier still.
But don't give up! The value of such a chart instantly appreciates just by adding a color, as in the following to set aside the Western states against the rest of the union:
In these charts, the worst ranks (higher unemployment) are placed higher. We see that Utah has climbed down the rankings during the recession, indicating that its employment situation has improved relative to other states. On the other hand, California has been a laggard pretty much the entire decade -- while its current rank is bad, it isn't that much worse than earlier in the decade.
It doesn't really matter which chart type one uses; it is a certainty that the designer must make choices as to which data to expose. Instead of plotting every state, here is a manageable chart that takes 10 randomly chosen states, comparing the trajectories of their unemployment rankings in the last decade:
What do we see here? Little North Dakota has been a star throughout most of this decade. Michigan has rapidly declined and is lingering at the back of the pack for three straight years. Florida experienced big ups and downs, with Alabama following a very similar trajectory. Poor Mississippi has been behind throughout the decade.
I love it when I write a post, and the chart designer pops in and provides his/her point of view. That's one of the things that keep me going. Appreciate the very substantive comments from my last post, and will respond soon with further comments. Thanks for reading!