Comparing rich people incomes and the taxes they pay

Based on leaked IRS data for the 400 wealthiest Americans, ProPublica provides a comparison of their incomes and the lower taxes they paid between 2013 and 2018. This might be best piece so far from ProPublica’s IRS series in terms of understanding the big picture from their dataset. Also, that “smaller than a pixel” note for the average American is doing some heavy lifting.

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Analysis of Facebook groups before January 6

The Washington Post and ProPublica analyzed Facebook group posts that disputed election results:

To determine the extent of posts attacking Biden’s victory, The Post and ProPublica obtained a unique dataset of 100,000 groups and their posts, along with metadata and images, compiled by CounterAction, a firm that studies online disinformation. The Post and ProPublica used machine learning to narrow that list to 27,000 public groups that showed clear markers of focusing on U.S. politics. Out of the more than 18 million posts in those groups between Election Day and Jan. 6, the analysis searched for words and phrases to identify attacks on the election’s integrity.

The more than 650,000 posts attacking the election — and the 10,000-a-day average — is almost certainly an undercount. The ProPublica-Washington Post analysis examined posts in only a portion of all public groups, and did not include comments, posts in private groups or posts on individuals’ profiles. Only Facebook has access to all the data to calculate the true total — and it hasn’t done so publicly.

Read more about the methodology behind the analysis.

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Where cancer risk is greater due to air pollution

Based on five years of data from EPA models, ProPublica mapped areas in the United States where cancer risk is higher due to air pollution:

In all, ProPublica identified more than a thousand hot spots of cancer-causing air. They are not equally distributed across the country. A quarter of the 20 hot spots with the highest levels of excess risk are in Texas, and almost all of them are in Southern states known for having weaker environmental regulations. Census tracts where the majority of residents are people of color experience about 40% more cancer-causing industrial air pollution on average than tracts where the residents are mostly white. In predominantly Black census tracts, the estimated cancer risk from toxic air pollution is more than double that of majority-white tracts.

Interact with the full map here.

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Check the frequency of salmonella in your chicken

The USDA recommends that you cook your chicken to at least 165°F to kill salmonella bacteria (time is also a factor), which appears to be more common than I would hope. ProPublica has a Chicken Checker so that you can find out. Look up the poultry product number on your pack of chicken, and you can see what percentage of USDA samples from the respective processing plant had salmonella.

A beeswarm chart shows how the plant’s rate compares to other plants that process the same type of poultry.

All I can think about now is that trend on social media from a while back where people cooked their chicken to rare. Mmm, salmonella.

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How sports owners pay less taxes than athletes

ProPublica continues their analysis of an anonymous dump of tax records, this time with a focus on billionaire sports owners:

The law favors people who are rich because they own things over people who are rich because they make a high income from their work. Wages — the main source of income for most people, including athletes — are taxed at the highest rates of all, topping out at a marginal rate of 37% plus an extra 3.8% for Medicare. The government takes a smaller share of money made from, say, selling a stock. That’s not to mention the benefits available to people who own businesses, such as the paper losses created by buying a sports team.

Easy solution: We’ll all just buy a sports team.

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How the ultrarich use a Roth IRA to get more rich

ProPublica continues their analysis of an anonymous IRS tax records dump. In their most recent, they look at how Peter Thiel uses a Roth IRA to avoid taxes on billions.

In the second half of the piece, a time series chart showing the growth of Thiel’s account versus a standard maxed out account. The data progresses as you scroll, which moves the article forward, until it fills the whole window. Nice.

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Billionaire tax rates

ProPublica anonymously obtained billionaires’ tax returns. Combining the data with Forbes’ billionaire wealth estimates, ProPublica calculated a “true tax rate” for America’s 25 richest people:

The results are stark. According to Forbes, those 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That’s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4%.

It’s a completely different picture for middle-class Americans, for example, wage earners in their early 40s who have amassed a typical amount of wealth for people their age. From 2014 to 2018, such households saw their net worth expand by about $65,000 after taxes on average, mostly due to the rise in value of their homes. But because the vast bulk of their earnings were salaries, their tax bills were almost as much, nearly $62,000, over that five-year period.

As you might guess, a lot of the disparity has to do with wealth held in unrealized capital gains. The other part is how the ultrawealthy still pay for everything when most of their money is in investments and how that factors into deductions.

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Inadequate hate crime statistics

For ProPublica, Ken Schwencke reports on a poor data system that relies on local law enforcement to voluntarily enter data:

Local law enforcement agencies reported a total of 6,121 hate crimes in 2016 to the FBI, but estimates from the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the federal government, pin the number of potential hate crimes at almost 250,000 a year — one indication of the inadequacy of the FBI’s data.

“The current statistics are a complete and utter joke,” said Roy Austin, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division. Austin also worked at the White House on data and civil rights and helped develop an open data plan for police data.

Garbage in, garbage out.

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Parler video feed of the mob at the Capitol

As you probably know, there was a big Parler data scrape before the app and site went down. ProPublica spliced Parler video posts, sorting them by time and location. The result is basically a TikTok-style video feed of what happened.

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Mapping disappearing beaches in Hawaii

Ash Ngu for ProPublica and Sophie Cocke for Honolulu Star-Advertiser show the harm of building seawalls on Hawaii’s beaches. The walls protect luxury beachfront properties, but they have been built through administrative loopholes and destroy beaches, which are owned by the public.

I like the combination of video footage and map, providing a scroll along the coastline. It provides an anchor for where you are and what you’re looking at.

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