Track Your Tax Dollars: NPP Is Committed to Researching and Disseminating Information to Those Working for Social and Economic Justice, Including National Organizations, Grass-Roots Groups, and Individual Citizens

By Pack, Thomas | Information Today, September 2003 | Go to article overview
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Track Your Tax Dollars: NPP Is Committed to Researching and Disseminating Information to Those Working for Social and Economic Justice, Including National Organizations, Grass-Roots Groups, and Individual Citizens


Pack, Thomas, Information Today


Last year in New York, $776 million was spent on active military salary and wages, but only $45 million on adult education. In California, the federal government spent almost $24 billion on Department of Defense procurement contracts, but $11 million on emergency food assistance.

You can find out more about how the government spends your tax dollars at the National Priorities Project Database (http://database .nationalpriorities.org), a Web site that offers information on state socioeconomic needs and federal expenditures on such issues as hunger, education, the military, housing, and poverty. The site is free, well-designed, easy-to-use, and lets you instantly create customized tables and graphs.

Searching for Data

Founded in 1983, the National Priorities Project (NPP) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the impact of federal tax and spending policies at the community level. It's committed to researching and disseminating this information to those working for social and economic justice, including national organizations, grass-roots groups, and individual citizens.

NPP launched its online database in May 2002. It contains a vast amount of information, but it's easy to find the statistics you seek. Just click Issue Search or Location Search on the site's home page. Both search methods let you specify the issues, data sets, years, and states you want to research. The editors plan to add information on other areas, including cities, counties, and congressional districts. When that information is available, you might find the database easier to navigate through either an Issue Search or Location Search, depending on the type of data you need. At this writing, it doesn't make much difference which interface you use.

Both search methods let you follow a simple four-step process. If you click Issue Search, for example, you first choose an issue area: income and poverty, hunger, housing, military, basic demographics, education spending programs, health, or labor. (NPP plans to add information on many other issues, including agriculture, children and youth, community development, energy, environment, incarceration and crime, seniors, and infrastructure and transportation.)

The interface lets you select one or multiple issue areas. For instance, if you want to compare how much the federal government spent on nutrition to how much it spent on the military, you can choose both "hunger" and "military."

After you click the Next Step button, you can choose the data sets you want to view (for example, Department of Defense procurement contracts, cost of the military in terms of individual income taxes, food stamps, food insecurity, WIC, or School Lunch Program).

Then you select a state, and finally, the year or range of years you want to research. The NPP editors have tried to make information available from 1983 to 2001, but you may find that not all data covers that time span. For example, information on food insecurity is available back to only 1995, the year the survey that produces the data was established.

Working with Search Results

After you've followed the four search steps, the site will generate a table of the data you selected. If you want to modify a search, just click on the appropriate element in the Current User Search Criteria box that appears on the results page. For example, if you chose the years 1985-2000 but instead want to view 1990-2000, just click "Years" in the box and make adjustments.

Below each results table is a link to "Notes and Sources." Click the link to see each data set listed with a short definition of the source of the information. If you want more details on the source, click "More" at the end of the definition.

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