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Zoom in on unemployment

GeoFRED maps and BLS data help us view unemployment up close


The U.S. is a large, diverse country with many differences in sectoral composition, demographics, geography, labor mobility, climate, and much more. FRED recently added a bunch of data on U.S. unemployment rates, which is a dataset with its own diverse set of differences and facets. This post explores one of those facets: geographies. We often hear about the national unemployment rate, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a decomposition of unemployment at many geographic levels. Zooming in to these specific areas can help us better understand the country’s economic challenges.

The first two maps look at different ways the Census Bureau has divided up the country: The first has four U.S. Census regions, and the second has nine Census divisions.

The next map shows the 48 continental U.S. states, which obviously vary in size and population density; so, one has to be careful when interpreting the visuals. But clearly, interstate differences can be stark, even for neighboring states. Now let’s go a step further.

The next map show county-level data. In a few cases, the boundaries of a state can be recognized. But, for the most part, counties have their own unemployment experiences beyond any state averages. There are also streaks of color that span over several parts of states, like the ones that run from the Southwest to the Northwest and from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Erie.

The last graph includes metropolitan statistical areas, which usually span several counties and sometimes multiple states. Not all U.S. territory is encompassed by MSAs, so you’ll notice that many areas don’t have an unemployment rate in this map.

How these maps were created: For each of them, go to GeoFRED, select the geographic unit, and in the cogwheel menu in the upper left select “unemployment rate” as the data.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.



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