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This recession was different


Most recessions share common characteristics, but not the most recent one. To illustrate this, we use a little known and used feature of FRED: setting a common index value and examining a period before and after that point. In the graph, you see four versions of the same series, civilian unemployment. Each series is centered on a different recession peak date, with a value of 100 for these start dates. The graph also shows data for 60 months before and 80 months after those dates.

The period before the start dates reveals nothing remarkable, but the most recent recession deviates from the other recessions after the start date: The unemployment rate shoots up much higher, and despite a steeper downslope the unemployment rate has yet to reach a value that would be expected from a normal recovery. (By the time 80 months had elapsed from the other recessions’ start dates, the unemployment rates had essentially returned to where they started.)

How this graph was created: Find the “Civilian Unemployment Rate” and modify the units to “Index (Scale value to 100 for chosen period).” For this graph, we use “U.S. Recession Peak” (vs. the “Trough” or another “Observation Date”). The default will be the peak of the most recent recession. Then choose the “Display integer periods instead of dates” option. Choose an interior period range of -60 to 80. Add this unemployment rate series three more times, performing the same manipulations but selecting different recession peaks.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann

View on FRED, series used in this post: UNRATE


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