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There’s an Interactive Tool for That!

Pew Center on the States: Measuring State Economic Mobility
June 11, 2012 · Print · Email

The online world is not flat, which continues to increase the power of the Internet.  Certainly, we can access vast amounts of information online.  We can also, in a growing number of examples, interact with that information, through tools or calculators that allow us to change variables and see the impact of those changes.  At what rate are these calculators cropping up and changing the online experience?  Well, we don’t have a calculator for that.  (Not yet, at least.)  But we can point you to several powerful online tools related to income, housing affordability, and economic trends: 

1. Urban Institute’s New Income Change Calculator

Many low-income families rely on government assistance to pay for basic needs such as food and shelter.  Assistance from government sources takes many forms, many of which are subject to change if a family’s income increases or decreases - or if the family moves to another state.  The Urban Institute recently launched a new interactive tool, called the Net Income Change Calculator, which lets users choose a specific scenario - including earnings, number of children in the family, child care needs, type of assistance programs in which they participate - and see the results for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The calculator shows changes in net income as result of changes in earnings, relocation, or changes in certain family circumstances.

We can also, in a growing number of examples, interact with that information, through innovative tools or calculators that allow us to change variables and see the impact of those changes.  

“The Net Income Change Calculator is intended primarily for researchers, policymakers, and others trying to understand the interactions among wages, taxes, and benefit programs,” according to Linda Giannarelli, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute.  She adds that while individuals might also find the calculator helpful in considering their own situations, the tool can’t take into account the vast array of “real-world” circumstances (e.g., families in which somebody has a disability, multi-generation families, etc.) that might also impact a family’s financial condition.

2. Atlanta Federal Reserve Board Job Calculator

The Center for Human Capital Studies at the Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta has developed a Jobs Calculator that computes the net employment change needed to achieve a specific unemployment rate over a given period of time.  Users can enter any targeted unemployment rate and time frame to see the net change in payroll employment needed to make that scenario realistic. 

As the website explains, labor force growth is an important factor in achieving employment growth: “The labor force and unemployment rate together determine the new level of employment .....”

Timing is another critical factor.  “The longer the time period you allow-keeping the labor force participation rate and population growth constant-the smaller the implied growth in the labor force and consequently, the fewer number of net jobs need to be created each month to absorb the implied change in the labor force.”

3. Center for Neighborhood Technology Housing + Transportation Index

How much does it really cost to live here?  Housing is only one part of the equation. Transportation costs also affect a family’s ability to afford to live in a specific area. The Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index provides data “used in trend analysis, goal setting, performance measurement, scenario evaluation, competitive award processes, site selection, and housing counseling services,” according to the CNT website. 

Consumers can also use its companion tool, Abogo (whose name is derived from blending the words “abode” and “go”), which allows users to enter a given address to see what a typical household in that area spends on transportation per month.  This tool has a component that illustrates how shifts in gasoline prices can affect monthly transportation costs in that area.

4. CNN Money Home Affordability Tool

Can I afford a house in this neighborhood - part two.  CNN Money offers an interactive Home Affordability tool that allows users to enter six variables (annual income, down payment, outstanding debt, etc.) to see conservative and aggressive price points for housing, including total loan amount, property taxes, and monthly mortgage payments.

5. Pew Center on the States: Measuring State Economic Mobility

Economic mobility refers to the ability to move up or down the earnings ladder.  That ability varies by region - and from state to state - according to the Pew Center on the States, which has developed an interactive tool, entitled Measuring State Economic Mobility, to show absolute and relative mobility over a ten-year period. 

Absolute mobility refers to the average percentage growth over a ten-year period.  Users can scroll over any state in the map to see average earnings growth for that state over the next ten years, and how that number compares to the national average.  Relative mobility indicates the percentage of residents moving ten or more percentage points up or down the earnings ladder over a ten-year period.

An accompanying data table summarizes how the nation’s regions and states compare in terms of absolute and relative upward and downward mobility as of April 2012. 

6. New York Times One Percent Map (What Percent Are You?)

Last - but not least - is a tool for those interested in keeping up with the Jones’ - or at least knowing where their household income places them in which income category.  The New York Times’ What Percent Are You? interactive household income tool allows users to enter a household income (pick a number .... any number!).  The resulting map shows where that household income would be considered in the top, or bottom, percentage of income levels for that area.  A family income of $100,000, for example, would rank in the top 7% in Flint, Michigan, but only in the top 31% in the Seattle area.

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