How Much Water Do Californians Use And What Does A 20 Percent Cut Look Like?

Includes interactive charts
A parched Folsom Lake,  at less than 20 percent of capacity (photo courtesy of National Weather Service).

A parched Folsom Lake, at less than 20 percent of capacity (photo courtesy of National Weather Service).


This is not a good time for umbrella merchants in California.

2013 was one of the driest years on record in the state. And January  – usually among the wettest months — has failed to provide any relief. With the precipitous drop in reservoir levels, Gov. Jerry Brown recently declared a statewide drought emergency, calling this “perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,” Continue reading

The Math of Credit Card Debt, Explained

Includes animated video

Beware the lure of that plastic in your wallet!

According to the Federal Reserve data, the average indebted U.S. household in 2013 shouldered credit card debt of more than $15,000 (although that figure is skewed by a relatively small number of extremely debt-ridden families). While U.S. credit card debt has fallen since the height of the recent recession, and pales in comparison to average mortgage debt (about $148,000) and student loan debt (about $32,000), it still remains a major burden for millions of U.S. consumers who cumulatively owe upwards of $850 billion to credit card companies.

So how do credit cards actually work? And more importantly, how do the credit card companies make their millions from all your swipes? Animator Josh Kurz explains.


Josh Kurz started out as an embryo, 53 times smaller than a US nickel. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, he began at an early age fusing the abstract concepts of science and comedy. Now he works as an independent filmmaker specializing in humorous science explainers ranging from the economics of voting to why some people (like he himself) hate cilantro. His work has been featured on WGBH, ABC, PBS, NPR, TEDed, and Radiolab.

Is College Really Worth the Cost?

Includes comic infographic

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More Americans are attending college today than ever before. And that’s generally considered a good thing. But college tuition at both public and private universities has skyrocketed, leaving a growing number of graduates mired in debt and struggling to find decent employment in a sluggish economy. All of which begs the question: is the studying and sacrifice really worth it? With pencil in hand, comic journalist Andy Warner explores the issue. Continue reading

How San Francisco’s Population Ebbs and Flows Throughout the Day

Includes visualization and interactive chart

screenshotThe 2010 Census put San Francisco’s population at about 789,000. But take a citywide head count in the middle of an average weekday, and you’re guaranteed to find a whole lot more people here.

Nearly 21 percent more — upward of 162,000 additional folks.

That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which calculates a statistic called the Commuter-Adjusted Daytime Population to estimate the number of people present in a particular city during normal business hours. Calculated by adding the number of non-working residents to the total working population, the figure underscores the idea that many cities dramatically expand and contract throughout the course of a day — their true populations determined by much more than simply the number of people who actually live there. It also highlights the additional challenges faced by local governments responsible for planning and building infrastructure for both residents and all inbound travelers. Continue reading

How Poverty Is Measured in America, Explained in Two Cartoons

Includes video and cartoon infographics

During his State of the Union Address delivered 50 years ago on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” At the time, roughly 19 percent of Americans were living below the newly developed federal poverty line. Johnson’s declaration ushered in a wave of social welfare legislation — part of a set of domestic reforms that became known as “The Great Society.” It led to the creation of health and education safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start and food stamps. By 1969, when he left office, the poverty rate had dropped by more than a third, to about 12 percent. Continue reading

The Lowdown’s Top 10 Visualizations of 2013

2013 provided endless journalistic opportunities for number-crunching and data-based storytelling. Below, in no particular order, are 10 memorable visualizations featured this year on The Lowdown.

1. The Math of Trash, an Animated Music Video

How much trash do you think you produce in a day? How about a year? It adds up a lot faster than you might  think — especially in the United States, which collectively generates more garbage — or municipal waste — than any other nation on earth. With only five percent of the world’s population, America creates roughly 25 percent of the planet’s waste.

Continue reading

Your Reactions to the 20 Biggest Stories of 2013

Includes interactive timeline

The 2013 news cycle came with nary a dull moment.

From the Boston marathon bombings, NSA leaks and same-sex marriage Supreme Court decisions, to the George Zimmerman verdict, government shutdown and health care exchange fiasco, there was an abundance of game-changing news this year in the United States, replete with a steady flow of provocative headlines. In this interactive timeline, Andrea Caumont and George Gao at Pew Research chart 20 of the biggest stories of the year, noting how the public reacted based on polls conducted in the aftermath of each event.

What Are Your Odds of Winning the Lottery?

By Joe Golling

If you gamble on faith — not on odds — you might want to stop reading this now. Because the chances of winning just about any big stakes lottery game — like Mega Millions  — is just north of impossible. Let’s take Powerball, for instance. Odds of winning the jackpot: about 1 in 175 million. By comparison, your odds of getting hit by lightening — a presumably less favorable outcome — are significantly higher. So, be sure to take shelter during thunderstorms, and, if you play the lottery: you might not want to quit your day job just yet. But hey, you never know, right? People win all the time. In this animation and accompanying infographic, animator Joe Golling explains how to calculate the mathematical possibilities of buying the winning ticket.

Continue reading

Rot and Rubbish: The Rancid Truth About How Much Food We Waste

Includes cartoon infographic

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Food. It’s almost as if we like wasting it as much as we enjoy eating it. About a third of all food in the world that’s produced for human consumption (roughly 1.2 billion tons)  is lost or wasted, based on United Nations’ estimates — even as millions still suffer from chronic hunger. In the United States, nearly 40 percent of the food supply gets tossed in the garbage, much of it piled in rapidly rising mountains of trash. In his latest cartoon infographic, comic journalist Andy Warner sniffs out an alarmingly rotten issue — one that might make you think twice before tossing that pizza crust. (Click on the link below to view in individual panes.)   Continue reading