Mapping State Tax Expenditures to Demonstrate that All Else Really is Equal

Typically, when a business invests in a new piece of equipment, it cannot immediately deduct the full purchase price from its taxable income in the first year.  Instead, according to federal tax regulations, it deducts a percentage of the price in each of 2, 5, or 7 years depending on the type of equipment.  Businesses, of course, would prefer the tax deduction to happen in the first year so they have lower current taxes and therefore increased current cashflow which can be used to make additional investments that will pay off in the future.

In an effort to help small businesses, the federal government has long allowed for all investment costs below a specified threshold by any given firm to be immediately deducted.  This threshold, is specified in Section 179 of the tax code and is generally referred to as the Section 179 allowance.   For example, in 2002, all investment costs below $20,000 could be immediately deducted from taxable income but investment costs beyond $20,000 were subject to normal rules.


Since 2003, the government has worked to encourage business investment by significantly increased this threshold (see figure 1). Interestingly, as the government has increased the threshold, many states have made equivalent alterations to their state tax policies.  Other states have increased their Section 179 allowance some.  Still others have not increased Section 179 generosity at all.  In new research, I attempt to use this state-level variation in Section 179 generosity to estimate how manufacturing investment and employment respond to state Section 179 conformity.

An important step in this research process has been demonstrating that states that do and do not conform to the federal threshold are not substantially different in other ways that would affect investment or employment trends.  One major concern, in particular, is that conforming states might be concentrated in a single region.  If investment and employment is changing in this region for reasons other than Section 179 conformity, then the research design, which compares conforming and non-conforming states, would inappropriately attribute investment and employment effects to state 179 conformity when, in fact, these effects are really due to regional trends.

To allay this concern, I enlisted the help of Bonnie Brooks in DASIL to create an interactive ArcGIS application which shows the evolution of state 179 conformity during the years 2000 to 2011.  From the application, it is immediately apparent that state conformity or non-conformity is not concentrated in any region.  Thus, the ArcGIS application simply and elegantly allays concerns that regional trends may undermine the key assumption in this and all applied microeconometrics research project: that all else really is equal.

To use the map:

  • Drag the second ticker to the beginning of the timeline to start the visualization from the year 2000

10 Suggestions for Making an Effective Poster


Written papers are the traditional way to share research results at professional meetings, but poster sessions have been gaining popularity in many fields. Posters are particularly effective for sharing quantitative data, as they provide a good format for presenting data visualizations and allow readers to peruse the information at leisure.  For students they are a great teaching tool, as preparing a good poster also requires clear and concise writing.

Making a poster is easy, but making a really good poster is hard.  I have found the guidelines below helpful to students.  The most important piece of advice, however, is the one true for all writing—write, read and revise; write, read and revise; write, read and revise!

  1. Make your poster using PowerPoint. This will allow you to put in text via text boxes as well as to paste in charts, graphs, tables, maps, and pictures.  It is easy! To get your pictures and text boxes to line up consistently, use snap to grid.  In the Format tab choose Arrange>>Align and then Grid Setting. Select to view the grid and to snap to the grid.  You can set the grid size here as well.
  1. Use a single slide. In the Design Tab pick Page Setup, select custom, and then set the width and height to maximize your slide, given the locally-available paper size. At Grinnell the paper width available is 36”, so we set the width to 45” and the height to 36”.  Use “landscape” for your orientation.
  1. As in a written paper, have a descriptive title. Put the title (in 68 point type or larger) at the top of the poster.  Place your name and college affiliation in slightly smaller type immediately below it.
  1. The exact sections of the poster will vary some depending on the project, but include an abstract placed either under the title or in the upper left column.
  1. As in a written paper, be sure you have a good thesis and present it early in the poster, support it with evidence, then remind your audience of it as you conclude. Finish with a minimum of citations and acknowledgements in the lower right hand corner.
  1. Posters should read sequentially from the upper left, down the left column, then down the central column (if you have one) and finally down the right column. Alternative layouts are possible, but the order in which the poster is read must be obvious.
  1. Use a large font–a minimum of 28 point.
  1. Limit the number of words. Be concise and think of much of your text as captions for illustrations.
  1. Use lots of charts, graphs, maps, and other pictures. Be sure to label your figures and refer to them in the text.
  1. Make your poster attractive. Use color.  Pay attention to layout.  Do not have large empty areas.


Mental Health Mortality, by Gender and Race

US President Barack Obama announced on January 5th that he would be taking executive action on gun control in light of a tragic trend of mass shootings in the last several years. Among the details of his gun control plan, he mentioned an increase in mental health services. While the expansion of mental health support may help in ameliorating the mass shootings epidemic, it may also has positive implications for reducing the number of Americans who die due to mental health causes. Using DASIL’s United States Mortality by Cause of Death, Race, and Gender visualization, one can see how deaths due to mental illness have been on the rise since the 1990s, and how the trend has had varying effects on every demographic:



When looking at strictly male versus female deaths due to mental health causes, males in recent years are slightly more affected than females, at an average 3.84 deaths compared to 3.50 as of 2009. However, the 90s saw the reverse, with female fatalities at 1.92 compared to 1.37 in 1994.



When breaking down within each gender by race, a much different story emerges. For females, the sharp rise in deaths due to mental health is observed after the year 2000, which differs from the trend for all races and all genders. In addition, while each race follows the same sharp increase after the year 2000, white women are more adversely affected, at an average 5.92 deaths compared to 4.09 for blacks and 3.68 for other races in 2009. For males, on the other hand, the same sharp increase also appears after the year 2000, however the averages for each race are much less in comparison to their female counterparts. White males are also more adversely affected in comparison to other races, at 3.11 deaths, while black males are averaging 2.41 deaths and other races 2.33 deaths.

Why has mental health been more fatal for women across all demographics? One reason may be eating disorders. Women are more likely to contract an eating disorder than men (although that does not mean men do not develop eating disorders), and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. For example, according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, the mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa, one type of eating disorder, is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females between the ages of 15-24 years old.

President Obama’s plan for enforced support and better resources for those suffering with mental illness will not only help in tackling the gun violence epidemic, but also larger instances of mental illness fatalities.

#NYE, According to Twitter

The Twittersphere is buzzing with talk of the new year. As a follow-up to our latest post, DASIL took a look at what people are talking about most in relation to New Year’s Eve. Below is a word cloud detailing the 50 most common words associated with the hashtag “#NYE”:


The biggest and most apparent theme is that of partying: New Year’s Eve is one of the (if not THE) most festive holidays of the year, so no wonder the Twittersphere is talking about party plans! Given words like “dinner,” “kiss,” “drunk,” and “bar,” one can infer that many peoples’ plans will involve some bubbly, hosting festivities at home, and someone to share a kiss with when the clock strikes twelve (a NYE tradition). Times Square in New York City is also featured, highlighting the city landmark as a mecca for NYE festivities. In addition, The Olive Garden, a popular Italian chain restaurant in the US, is also trending within talk of NYE: the Times Square branch is charging $400 to party at the restaurant, and will not be including breadsticks!

We hope all of our readers have a Happy New Year!