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Mapping U.S. unemployment claims

Did you know FRED has launched a new map feature?* It’s true. And today we’ll reveal some of the benefits of using data maps by looking at unemployment claims. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has risen to extraordinary levels, which we can see in the continued claims (insured unemployment) data series. The map above shows these claims, state by state, for the second quarter of 2020.

At a first glance, it may seem there’s a lot of heterogeneity across states. The largest increases in claims occurred in California, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York—each with more than 2.7 million persons continuing to file for unemployment benefits.

The second map shows population by state. The largest states are California, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and North Carolina, each with more than 10 million persons.

So let’s compare the claims and population maps:

  • Michigan is in the group of high unemployment claims but not one of the largest states. So, we can conclude that Michigan had a larger increase in unemployment claims relative to its population as compared with national averages.
  • In a similar way, Ohio and North Carolina are on the list of largest states but not on the list of most claims. So, we can conclude that the pandemic didn’t hit employment in Ohio and North Carolina as hard as it hit the overall U.S. economy.

This exercise shows that data on maps can be very useful for visual inspection. Of course, one has to take care when interpreting the units and control for other factors such as population by state. GeoFRED does have the ability to show some maps in per capita terms when the frequency of both series coincides, which isn’t the case here.

*All FRED data series with geographic characteristics now have a “View Map” button on the northeast side of the graph. Use it to create a new dimension of data visualization, from a time-series perspective to a cross-sectional perspective, with interactive functionality such as mouse-over and zooming.

How these maps were created: From GeoFRED, click on “Build new map” (green button, northeast corner of the screen) and then click on “Tools” (orange cogwheel button, northwest corner). Under “Region” select “State,” under “Data” select “Continued Claims,” under “Frequency” select “Quarterly, end of period,” under “Units” select “Number,” and under “Date” select 2020:Q2. Note that you can also edit the colors, legend, and labels. Repeat the process with population data for the second map, with the exception that the frequency remains “Annual.”

Suggested by Julian Kozlowski.

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