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What is the federal government worth?

More than is measured

The top graph shows federal government net worth, which looks like it’s plummeting and very negative. But before we scream in panic, let’s try to understand this a bit better. Over the time period shown, the economy, the population, and the price level have all increased. So let’s first adjust the series with one that takes all this into account: nominal GDP. The graph below shows this, and we now see that the net worth of the federal government is about minus three quarters of annual GDP. Still not so good. But is the federal government really in such a precarious situation?

To truly understand this measure, you need to go back to the sources—specifically the Z.1 Financial Accounts of the United States release, Table S.7.a, which at the time of this post ran from p. 176 to p. 178. The very last line is the series we show here. All that precedes that line are the elements that enter into the calculation, mostly financial debts and credits. This explains why the pattern of this series follows the series for the federal public debt. It includes some non-financial assets, such as structures, equipment, and intellectual property, but it does not include land, mineral rights, and the present value of future taxes. Any of these three missing elements in isolation would propel federal government net worth into positive territory. These items aren’t included here because it wouldn’t make sense in the context of the Integrated Macroeconomic Accounts (IMA, hence that label in the legend). But these items should be included to truly determine the full net worth of the federal government.

How these graphs were created: For the top graph, simply search for “federal government net worth.” For the bottom graph, create the first and then use the “Edit Graph” tab to add the GDP (nominal, not real) series to the existing line. Apply formula a/b/10 for the ratio we need, which adjusts the units and expresses the new series as a percentage.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: FGNETWQ027S, GDP

A single single-parent family in Loving County?

County-level data on single-parent households with children

With help from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, FRED and GeoFRED let you display sociodemographic data, often at the county level. This maps shows the proportion of households with children that have single parents. Maps can be deceiving, though. For example, urban areas with dense populations make a different visual impact than counties with, say, a large desert. In addition, the latter have data that’s more likely to flicker from year to year due to small samples. Case in point for this map: If you are eagle-eyed, you’ll notice that one county shows 100%: Loving County, Texas, with a population of 82, likely included only one household with children in the 2013 to 2015 surveys. And that was a single-parent household. (From 2009 to 2012, Loving County had either 0% or no value for single-parent families.) While this is an extreme case, a similar story may happen in several other counties. After all, the American Community Survey is based on invitations sent to 1 out of every 38 households in the U.S. While this is an impressive sample overall, for small communities it can lead to non-representative pictures.

How this map was created: The original post referenced an interactive map from our now discontinued GeoFRED site. The revised post provides a replacement map from FRED’s new mapping tool. To create FRED maps, go to the data series page in question and look for the green “VIEW MAP” button at the top right of the graph. See this post for instructions to edit a FRED map. Only series with a green map button can be mapped.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

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