Federal Reserve Economic Data: Your trusted data source since 1991

The FRED® Blog

Grandfather of FRED


Long before FRED, there was Homer Jones.

Jones was the St. Louis Fed’s research director (1958-1971) whose mission to make economic data more accessible to the public eventually evolved into FRED. Jones began his mission 55 years ago by mailing typed reports, starting with the one shown above from May 17, 1961. He pledged to provide these data to “anyone who thinks that such time series may have value” with the chief intention of illuminating “current objectives and measures of monetary policy and action.”

By the late 1970s, the St. Louis Fed was mailing its U.S. Financial Data publication to over 35,000 subscribers in the U.S. and Canada. It was incredibly popular and was even mentioned on the Today Show in the 1970s and cited as a useful source in Money magazine. In the 1980s, the Bank began to offer data over a recorded line. The rest is (FRED) history. St. Louis Fed research directors since Jones have continued to place a high priority on enhancing data services and providing high-quality customer service.

Homer Jones, shown below on the right with former St. Louis Fed president Darryl Francis, is honored in an annual lecture series.

2016 homerjones

Suggested by Katrina Stierholz.

Why is the unemployment rate not decreasing?

The U.S. economy has been adding jobs continuously for several years. In fact, payroll employment growth has been consistently higher than measures of population growth, including the civilian population shown in the graph above. This is definitely an encouraging sign for the health of the labor market. The unemployment rate has steadily decreased over this period, yet it has hardly moved in recent months: It was 5.1% in August 2015 and is 5.0% as of April 2016. With this larger inflow of employed people than people in general, the unemployment rate should decrease, right? That would be correct if the proportion of people in the labor force remained constant. But it has not remained constant, as is visible in the graph below. The labor force participation rate has been increasing significantly in recent months after a decades-long decline. A large number of people who previously declared they were not in the labor force (not working and also not looking for a job) are now in the labor force. Some of these people are unemployed, and these additions to unemployment rolls have been large enough to almost exactly erase the gains made in employment.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, go to the most popular series (shown on the FRED homepage, under “At a Glance” tab) and click on the payroll employment link there. Then add the civilian noninstitutional population series to the graph. Finally, change the units of both series to “Percent Change from Year Ago.” For the second graph, search for and add “Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate” to the graph, then add the unemployment rate series. Finally, set the y-axis to the right for the latter.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann

View on FRED, series used in this post: CIVPART, CNP16OV, PAYEMS, UNRATE

More on boundary changes

In our previous post, we mused about changes in country boundaries that can affect the time series of that region, taking up the example of German reunification. Such changes aren’t limited to international borders; they can also occur within a country. FRED has data for subnational units only in the United States. And although state boundaries haven’t changed much, some county boundaries have. The most dramatic changes happen when metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) are redrawn. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau removed Scott County from the Louisville MSA, dropping about 24,000 residents, which can be seen clearly in the graph above.

The Census Bureau doesn’t recalculate population time series, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics adopts new definitions (after a delay) and recalculates its statistics. This is visible in the graph below, which shows the same series, total non-farm employees, with two data vintages. The ALFRED site allows us to see how data are revised over time and in this case shows the data as of March 17, 2014, and March 25, 2016. The difference is the deletion of Scott County.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, simply search for “Louisville population.” For the second, Go to ALFRED, search for “Louisville employment,” change the graph type to “line,” expand the sample period to 10 years, and change the earlier vintage to 2014-03-17.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann

View on FRED, series used in this post: LOINA, LOIPOP

Subscribe to the FRED newsletter

Follow us

Back to Top