Capitol Comments

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released its latest Elections Performance Index, or EPI, which now includes an interactive tool that allows states to compare their election administration performance to one another and across similar elections. The annual Pew study measures election administration by evaluting indicators like wait times at polling locations and voter turnout. The report found that, between 2008 and 2012, state election performance overall improved by 4.4 percentage points, and 40 states plus DC improved their score over the same time frame. 

According to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (PIRG), Indiana ranks first among states when it comes to  making public spending information available online. Rankings from the group's fifth annual report, “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, are based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites. The report notes that last year was the first time that all 50 states operated websites to make information on state spending accessible to the public.

State policymakers are flooded with data, from big picture economic trends to how many people in their state signed up for health insurance last week. When new data comes out, it is entirely possible that one analyst will say the sky is falling while another will brush the news aside as inconsequential. It can be hard to know what numbers to trust and what those numbers really mean. Ben Casselman, the chief economic writer for Nate Silver's newly launched website FiveThirtyEight.com, offers three rules for making sure you are a more informed economic data consumer: question the data, know what you are measuring and look outside the data.

In December 2013, the national unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, the lowest level in five years. After hitting a post-recessionary high of 10 percent in October 2009, the unemployment rate has fallen slowly and steadily, but remains nearly 2 percentage points higher than it was when the recession began in December 2007. In December 2013, North Dakota (2.6 percent), South Dakota (3.6 percent) and Nebraska (3.6 percent) had the lowest unemployment rates, while Rhode Island (9.1 percent), Nevada (8.8 percent), and Illinois (8.6 percent) had the highest rates.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. In 2012, an estimated 3.6 million people—or 4.7 percent of all hourly paid workers—made at or below the federal minimum wage. The young and the undereducated are more likely to earn the minimum wage, although those older than 25 make up a significant portion of the people earning at or below the minimum wage.

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