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Data visualization and BI expose unemployment trends by country
18 Feb, 2011 - Lachlan James

Data visualization and Business Intelligence (BI) are a powerful combination. Together, data analysis and intuitive visualizations help uncover, explain and contextualize complex trends, patterns and provide answers to essential questions.

Visual learning through BI and data visualization tools help to:
  • Make complex information and abstract ideas more understandable and tangible
  • Connect existing knowledge with new ideas
  • Improve information absorption and retention
  • Provide a framework from which future analysis, planning, reporting and discussion can be made
  • Focus discussion leading to better understanding and information interpretation as trends, relationships and patterns become more recognizable

Together, they form a perfect partnership to facilitate an understanding of economic trends. Today, we will apply data analysis and visualization techniques to reveal, provide perspective to, and elucidate global unemployment trends per country. The data sets have been sourced from the World Bank (citing: International Labour Organization, Key Indicators of the Labour Market database), and data collation site DataMarket.


Australia vs US (unemployment as a % of total labor force July 15 1980 – July 15 2008)

As expected, with some variance, Australian and US unemployment trends follow each other closely. US economic activity, as a general rule, has a substantial affect on Australia’s fiscal fortunes. Similarly, other developed economies tend to rise and fall off the back of US fortunes, and react to various fiscal stimuli in comparable ways.


Between 1980 and 2008, unemployment levels have decreased in both nations. However, the line chart shows that the US experienced greater unemployment rates than Australia, as a percentage of its total labor force, until the end of 1983. At that point, Australia took the lead until the end of 2003, where it became a neck-and-neck race.

Then, towards the end of 2007, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) emerged, hitting the US job market. US unemployment rose from 4.6 to 5.8 percent between July 2007 and July 2008. Conversely, Australia weathered the onset of the global economic meltdown better than the US, and almost any other developed nation. Why? Australia’s mining sector, supported by continued demand from China, kept the Aussies in the black. Between July 2007 and July 2008, Australia’s unemployment figures dropped from 4.4 to 4.2 percent. Unfortunately the data sets runs out in mid 2008.


Australia vs US vs UK (unemployment as a % of total labor force July 15 1980 – July 15 2008)

Once again, as with many developed economies, the UK’s unemployment numbers rise and fall in relative sync with the US market.


Unlike Australia, the chart indicates that the UK and US felt the effects of an economic slow-down around 2001, and the arrival of the GFC in 2008. Although, the US job market suffered to a greater extent during the early years of the new millennium, perhaps spooked by the events of September 11.

Another discernable difference between the unemployment rates of these three economies appears at the beginning of the graph. The UK, under Margaret Thatcher’s (1979 – 1990) hard-line economic rule, in which the “Iron Lady” took a stance against trade unions and subsidies, emphasizing deregulation and flexibility, suffered comparatively high unemployment rates throughout the recession of the 80s.


Australia vs US vs UK vs China (unemployment as a % of total labor force July 15 1980 – July 15 2008)

So, how does China’s unemployment history, as one of the only remaining nations of communist ideology, stack up against the developed, western, free-market economies of Australia, the UK and US?


Up until the last 15 years, China’s economy was far more independent and insulated from US and other Western economic movements. From 1980, up until the late 90s, China’s unemployment trends were not reflective of those in Australia, the US or UK.

As China’s economy and economic policies have become increasingly liberalized in recent years, their prosperity has become increasingly tied to that of other western economies, and therefore the socio-political events affecting western economies.

The US economic slow-down of 2000/01 appears to have had a modest, but noticeable effect, on China’s unemployment rates. However, their unemployment rates were, by comparison, only marginally affected by the onset of the GFC.

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