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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: 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 Julian Kozlowski.

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