Title: National Priorities Project Database
Publisher: National Priorities Project
Tested: October 20-22, 2004
There are several excellent reference sources that provide raw statistical data about demographic, social and economic indicators, as well as state rankings, such as the various almanacs and the CQ State Fact Finder. However, many of them are not available online, or are available but for subscribers only. The Census Bureau does a good job of making most of its census and survey data openly accessible, including the American FactFinder databases. Other government agencies also have useful and current statistics related to the most pressing economic and social issues. Despite their efforts of visualizing the data and offering a series of menu selections for locating the desired data, finding meaningful statistics for often debated issues can be overwhelming for many users, especially because such statistics are scattered across different sources. Enter the National Priorities Project (NPP) with its database of informative, consolidated content and its appealing user interface.
The database is produced and maintained by the National Priorities Project, a 501 nonpartisan education organization created "to educate the public on the impacts of federal tax and spending policies at the community level". (Of course, the often depressing data may not make the organization look nonpartisan.) NPP has enlightening and understandable statistics at the national, state and even county level about the most vexing issues, such as the rising costs of prescription drugs and the increasing gap between the approved and required budget for the Department of Veterans Administration just when it will be needed most. The data are presented in the form of standardized mini essays in PDF format and are impeccably sourced for each statistical profile.
There are nine major issues: Poverty, Housing, Military, Hunger, Education, Health, Labor, Energy and Basic Demographics. Each issue has statistics broken down into 10 to 30 subtopics. The Health issue subtopics, for example, include Medicare, Medicaid, Uninsured Persons, Uninsured Children, Community Health Centers, HIV and AIDS treatment, Heart Disease Research, Neuroscience Research, and a dozen other subtopics.
The NPP database itself allows you to look at the raw data, drill down to a particular aspect of the issue and define the historical period, i.e. to customize the information presented.
For example, you can get food stamp allocation data based on your choice of states and time period in a tabular format, along with sources, notes and links. Similarly, you can get a statistical table about the proportion of uninsured people from 1990 onward, for one or more states, listed side-by-side. Or, you could view the national profile versus one or more state profiles.
The most unusual and most interesting part of the database is its set of trade-off options. This allows you to choose a state, one of five programs (some of them earmarked in the FY 2005 budget), and one or more s trade-off option for spending your tax dollars. You get some thought provoking numbers, such as the fact that for the $25 billion additional expense of the war, 40,803 children could receive health care in Hawaii alone, and 14,709,911 in the entire United States. That is, of course, if the lobbyist army of the pharmaceutical industry (and all those in its pocket) don't push healthcare expenses more than usual. Yes, I am playing the keiki card, as so many politicians do to demonstrate concern for children, in order to be thought provoking.
The software is intuitive and provides handholding at every step of the process. It steps you through choosing your options, confirming your selections, and even allows for simple corrections or modifications to one or more of the options before and after generating the tables.
The only limitation that bothered me was that while the statistics can be saved, they are saved in the system, which in turn requires you to register. It is fine as an alternative, but it would be better to allow users the ability to download delimited formatted versions of the statistics. The current retrieved sets are in a printer-view format and the relevant part of the screen can be copied and pasted into a spreadsheet, but it would be better if the system's handholding was maintained in this last phase too.
I would also like to see a ranking/sorting option. Once you have downloaded the data into a spreadsheet you can sort it, but users would appreciate the instant ranking online.
Although NPP has statistics for a limited number of issues, compared to the large statistical compendia, factbooks and almanacs, it well covers the most critical measures for reckoning the social state of the nation. The trade-off option is a highly persuasive tool for putting the numbers of some of the most debated budget items in appropriate perspectives.