Skip to main content

The FRED® Blog

Go west, young worker! (Or maybe south)

Examining 40 years of internal U.S. labor migration

In 1876, as folks were heading west to “grow with the country,” the Transcontinental Express made a record 83-hour train trip from New York City to San Francisco. FRED’s data don’t typically go back that far, but the graph here does show how the U.S. labor force has moved around the country since 1976.

Clearly, there have been many types of positive and negative migration over the country’s history. The graph sheds light on one specific measure: the share of the U.S. labor force residing in each of the four Census regions. Note that these are proportions, so a decrease in a share may still mean an increase in that region’s labor force, as the nation’s population has increased over time. The graph shows that two regions have consistently increased their shares at the expense of the shares of the other two regions. Apparently, folks are still heading west, but also south. The West has had the largest percentage increase over the past 40 years, and the South’s increase is nearly as large: from 18.3% to 23.9% and from 31.6% to 36.9%, respectively. The shares of the labor force in the Northeast and the Midwest have decreased: from 22.9% to 17.6% and from 27.2% to 21.6%, respectively. As this centuries-long migration continues, FRED will continue to provide the historical data for you.

How this graph was created: After searching for “labor force,” look to the the left sidebar to select geography type “Census region.” Check the four series (either seasonally adjusted or not), and click on “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” menu’s “Format” tab, choose graph type “Area,” stacking “Percent,” and recession shading “Off.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CMWRLFN, CNERLFN, CSOULFN, CWSTLFN

Losing your job doesn’t always gain you unemployment benefits

Requirements and trends behind unemployment insurance

Being unemployed does not guarantee that you’ll receive benefits from your local unemployment insurance program. Typically, there are eligibility criteria, such as previous work requirements, waiting periods, eligibility periods, and asset tests. These criteria can be stringent, depending on the political choices behind them. The graph above compares the U.S. unemployment rate with the segment of the labor force receiving unemployment insurance benefits. It is very clear that, most of the time, only a minority of the unemployed receive benefits.

The graph below focuses on that segment, showing the proportion of the unemployed that receives insurance benefits. Obviously, there are cyclical variations: At the start of a recession, proportionally more unemployed haven’t yet run out of eligibility. There also appears to be a longer-run trend that has been decreasing the segment of those eligible for benefits.

Update: The insurance claim numbers cover those who get regular state unemployment insurance benefits. There are also those who get benefits under the extended benefit and the emergency unemployment compensation programs, whose proportions tends to be higher during recessions. See this article for an analysis of these details.

How these graphs were created: Search for “unemployment insurance claims” and click on the series. From the “Edit Graph” section, add the “civilian labor force” series and click on “Apply.” Then enter formula a/b/10 (where the 10 makes it a percentage). Then open the “Add Line” tab and search for the unemployment rate; take the monthly, seasonally adjusted series. That’s the first graph. For the second, remove the line you just added, but add that series to the first line and apply formula a/b/c*10.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CCSA, CLF16OV, UNRATE

Tracking economic progress for U.S. states

A map of the Philly Fed's coincident indicators for 2016-2017

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia computes for each U.S. state a coincident indicator that combines information about employment, unemployment, hours worked, and wages. (These are state-level labor market data that are released reasonably quickly.) This coincident indicator has a base of 100 in 1992; thus, the numbers indicate how well each state has performed since 1992. The map shows how well they have performed from December 2016 to December 2017. This means we have to be careful when interpreting these numbers. A state may show great improvements, which is something to celebrate; but it’s important to consider whether those improvements come from climbing out of a hole or from an economy already in great shape. The reverse applies as well: States whose coincident indexes have not grown as strongly may already be doing pretty well. In the end, it is always useful to look at the details of every economic indicator.

How this map was created: From GeoFRED, click on “Build New Map.” Open the cog wheel and the “Choose Data” menu and select “State” as region type and look for the “coincident index.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

The world map of inflation

Where is inflation the highest?

FRED offers a wealth of global indicators from the World Bank. Today, we’re looking at inflation data. The map shows consumer price inflation across the world in 2015. (2016 numbers are still incomplete.) The two darkest colors indicate particularly high inflation rates: For the 2015 map, these rates are above 6%. Rates this high typically occur in countries where the central bank’s primary mandate is not to provide an environment with stable prices, but rather to support the government through monetization of the public debt or by providing cash for its expenses. Those countries that do not report numbers are either too small to compute the data, have a particularly weak government, or are trying to hide such statistics.

The lighter colors show lower inflation—or even deflation. Of particular interest are the middle-level blue-colored countries. Their inflation rates are between 1 and 3 percent, which is the range typically thought of as the rate that should be achieved. The idea is that you want some inflation to allow for adjustment in economies where prices or wages have some downward rigidity: If firms and other economic actors are not inclined to decrease their prices and wages, but a decrease is necessary to balance demand and supply, then a little inflation can help. Of course, if overall prices decrease, this logic becomes quite problematic, which is the case in the white-colored countries.

How this map was created: Search FRED for the inflation rate of any country. Look at the series page under the related resources for the GeoFRED map. Click on it, expand its focus, and change the year to 2015.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

What’s real about wages?

A look at the increases and decreases in wages

People have been talking about the evolution of wages. Some say they’re increasing, others say they’re decreasing. Who’s right? As is so often the case in economics, it depends. First let’s look at the graph above, which has four different indicators for wages. Three of them show a clear and steady upward trend. But one of them—the green line, which shows median weekly earnings—is starkly different. It could be because the median is different from the mean if the distribution of wages skews strongly at the top. Or it could be that people work less per week. Or it could be that it’s a real measure, whereas the others are nominal.

The second graph corrects for this bias. The three nominal series are now real, after being divided by the consumer price index so that general price increases aren’t reflected in the wage. Now all four series evolve along basically the same path. It’s clear that decreases can be frequent and sometimes long lasting. It’s also clear there’s a lot of variability, which means one should really wait for a good amount of data before reaching for any conclusions.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search FRED for “wage” and pick the four series. Limit the time period to the past 10 years. From the “Edit Graph” section, choose “Index” for the units with the default of 100 at the end of the last recession. Then click on “Apply to all.” For the second graph, add the CPI to each of the three nominal series, apply formula a/b, and again choose “Index” for the units.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CES0500000003, CPIAUCSL, ECIWAG, LES1252881600Q, USAHOUREAQISMEI

Subscribe to the FRED newsletter

Follow us

Twitter logo Google Plus logo Facebook logo YouTube logo LinkedIn logo
Back to Top