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The mosaic of U.S. unemployment

Even the Great Recession didn't stop some counties from working

In October 2009, in the wake of the Great Recession, the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10%. This economy-wide number is useful but masks important regional patterns. To reveal a more detailed picture, we use GeoFRED to look back at county-level unemployment in October 2009.

In this map, counties are divided into three types, according to their unemployment rates:

  • a rate above the economy-wide peak of 10%
  • a rate between 4% (the current rate as of January 2019) and 10%
  • and a rate below 4%.

Counties in the first group, with rates above 10%, were concentrated on the West Coast and in the Midwest and South Atlantic regions. Counties in the second group, with below-average rates, include other parts of the West and a significant portion of counties in the Northeast (e.g., Wyoming, New York, and Massachusetts).

Counties in the third group, with unemployment below 4%, are concentrated in a column that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. This is no mean feat. In October 2009, the U.S. economy was still reeling from the recession and the financial crisis. But even amidst these poor economic conditions and a national unemployment rate of 10% (the highest since April 1983), these counties managed to maintain extremely low rates of unemployment—lower, in fact, than the current economy-wide rate of 4%, which is exceptionally low by historical standards and has been aided by 10 years of economic expansion.

How this map was created: In GeoFRED, click the green “Build New Map” button in the top right corner of the page. From the “Tools” bar: Use the “Region Type” tab to select “County.” Use the “Data” tab to search for and select “Unemployment Rate” (choose “Not Seasonally Adjusted, monthly, Percent”). Use the “Frequency” tab to select “Monthly” and the “Units” tab to select “Percent.” Use the “Date” tab to select “October 2009.” Use the “Choose Colors” tab to select “Single Hue” option 4. Use the “Edit Legend” tab to select “3” for “Number of Classes” and change “Interval Method” to “User Defined.” Under the “Define maximum interval values” box, type “3.9,” “10,” and “29.5” for the three intervals in increasing order. Use the “Tool Settings” tab to ensure only the “Display Legend” box is checked.

Suggested by Makenzie Peake and Guillaume Vandenbroucke.

Loving unemployment

A Valentine's Day post for Texas and Oklahoma

For Valentine’s Day, we embrace the subject of unemployment. Specifically, this graph shows the unemployment rate for 2 of the 3,000+ U.S. counties for which FRED has data: Love County in Oklahoma and Loving County in Texas. Besides their affectionate names, what’s so special about them?

Loving County has a rather unusual unemployment rate: It can stay at 0% for several months in a row or it can shoot up to 16%. This is what happens when a county has only 134 residents. Also, the BLS gathers unemployment numbers from surveys, so only some residents of this county were reached. The results, therefore, are (1) very volatile due to small samples and (2) more frequently off the mark.

Love County is an agriculture-centric county of a more traditional size: 10,000 residents. Such counties have unemployment rates that are below the national average and more stable, and this holds true here. The only unusual aspect is the uptick in the previous recession. The county’s largest employer is a casino, and that industry suffered a lot in the recession.

How this graph was created: Search for “loving unemployment” and, yes, the series you need will be among the few choices. Check the relevant series and click “Add to Graph.” To add the nice pink frame, go to the “Edit Graph” panel’s “Format” tab and play with the coloring options.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: OKLOVE5URN, TXLOVI1URN

How much cash is out there?

This graph shows U.S. dollars in circulation per capita—in other words, how much physical cash is held outside the Federal Reserve for each person living in the U.S. As of the November 2018 observation, that amount is $6,575. We checked, and no one on the FRED Blog team is holding that much cash right now. We assume not many of our readers would hold that much cash. So, who is holding it? Part of it may be lost. Much of it is held by domestic businesses and governments. And then there are all those dollars held abroad. In some countries, the dollar is valued over the local currency for its stability and low inflation rate. In fact, the following countries have adopted the U.S. dollar as legal tender and abolished their own currency: British Virgin Islands, Caribbean Netherlands, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Panama, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Many more countries use the U.S. dollar alongside their own currency, either formally or informally. In addition, in those countries where the banking system is underdeveloped or not trusted, savings can be held mostly in U.S. cash in freezers and mattresses. (Note that foreign currency reserves held by central banks are rarely cash: They’re mostly held in Treasury bonds or accounts at the Fed.)

How this graph was created: Search for “currency in circulation” and click on the monthly series. From the “Edit Graph” panel, add a monthly population series, and apply formula a/b*1000.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CNP16OV, MBCURRCIR

Foreign direct investment

This FRED graph plots quarterly foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into the U.S. as a percent of GDP. And what is FDI? It’s the flow of capital across borders when a firm owns a company in another country. But it’s more than simply owning stock in a foreign company: It implies that the investor is directly involved in the foreign company’s day-to-day operations.

FDI is beneficial to job creation and a country’s growth. In the U.S., it began to pick up after 1975 and spiked in the late-1990s and early 2000s, corresponding with the tech bubble. During recessions, which are represented in the graph by shaded bars, FDI systematically falls. Since the Great Recession, average FDI flows have been higher than in previous decades, ranging from 1% to 2% of GDP each quarter.

How this graph was created: Search for and select “Rest of the world; foreign direct investment in U.S.; asset, flow series (ROWFDIQ027S).” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the customize data option to add the nominal quarterly GDP series (GDP). In the formula box, type ((a/1000)/b)*100 and click “Apply.”

Suggested by Brian Reinbold and Paulina Restrepo-Echavarria.

View on FRED, series used in this post: GDP, ROWFDIQ027S

100 years of industrial production data

In 1922, the Federal Reserve Board began offering its industrial production index, with data starting in January 1919—which means we now have 100 years of data!

This series has been extremely useful in helping us gauge the state of the economy: At first, industrial production was basically the only data series available before the computation of GDP; and the data are published more frequently and quickly than GDP data. The disadvantage is that industrial production doesn’t encompass the entire U.S. economy. In fact, it has encompassed less and less as the economy has matured into primarily a service economy.

For more about the history of the industrial production index, see the Federal Reserve Board press release and the Federal Release Bulletin on FRASER, which contains the first set of data.

How this graph was created: Search for “industrial production” or click on “industrial production” on the FRED homepage.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: INDPRO


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