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The economic impact of February 29

Measuring variation in workdays, holidays, and leap years

Months of the year differ in terms of economic activity, so it’s often difficult to compare them. Seasonal factors are often at play, such as end-of-year holidays that raise postal employment and retail sales.

Months also have different numbers of workdays, depending on when holidays fall in the week. So it may also be difficult to compare the same month across years. The FRED graph above shows the number of workdays within a month, taken from a Board of Governors release related to the automobile industry: The range spans from 20 to 23 days, a 15% difference. When you compare year-to-year variations on a monthly or even quarterly basis, you may want to consider the number of workdays. And this graph doesn’t even take into account all federal or regional holidays.

One constant source of variation, though, is the month of February. It always has 20 workdays, except for leap years, when an additional day is thrown in. Today, in fact. Thus, this February will be 5% more productive than usual because this additional day is a workday. For the quarter, it will be roughly one-third of that; for the year, it will be one-twelfth. And these are not negligible differences when you think about yearly growth numbers.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for and select “weekdays.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

Is e-commerce back to “normal”?

The FRED graph above shows the evolution of e-commerce as a proportion of total retail sales. It’s no secret e-commerce has become more prominent and that it boomed during the pandemic, when access to retail premises was restricted. So, what’s the economic lesson here?

First, it’s important to realize that any particular economic activity measured as a share of an aggregate economic activity cannot grow indefinitely in any significant way: It can never go above 100%. Given that, we would expect the share of e-commerce to level off at some point. Has it?

What we do know is that e-commerce is back on its pre-pandemic trend, after a temporary bump in early 2020. Revisit this post in a year or two for a longer view, or add this graph to your FRED dashboard and track it at your leisure.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “e-commerce” and select the “E-Commerce Retail Sales as a Percent of Total Sales” series.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

Employment for video tape and disc rental

Video killed the radio star and the internet killed the video store

Slowly changing consumer preferences have decreased the demand for goods, and data in FRED show this trend. Today, we explore how a change in consumer preferences and internet-based technology have affected the economic activity of video rental stores.

The FRED graph above shows Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the number of persons employed in video tape and disc rental establishments between 1987 and 2022. These data are divided by the number of persons employed in all types of consumer goods rental, multiplied by 100 to show it as a percent.

Video rental employment peaked in 1990 at 59% of all rental employment. That has steadily declined, and the latest data at the time of this writing puts that employment share at less than 3%. Let’s break it down.

Between 1987 and 2022, overall employment in rental establishments (excluding video rental) actually increased. So while consumer preferences for renting goods didn’t wane, demand for physical video rentals did. Video rental stores closed and their employment shrank as video streaming over the internet became a convenient alternative to a trip to the video store. It also eliminated late-return rental fees!

In “Video Killed the Radio Star,” The Buggles lamented that “we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far… Put the blame on VCR.” That was 1979, a signal moment for video surpassing radio. But their lyrics may also apply to some big changes today: “They took the credit for your second symphony, rewritten by machine and new technology, and now I understand the problems you can see.”

How this graph was created: Search FRED for and select “Employment for Real Estate and Rental and Leasing: Video Tape and Disc Rental (NAICS 532282) in the United States.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line” tab to customize the data by searching for and adding “Employment for Real Estate and Rental and Leasing: Consumer Goods Rental (NAICS 5322) in the United States.” Last, type the formula (a/b)*100 and click “Apply.”

Note: This change in consumer preferences has led to a change in the name of the price index data series tracking spending on video-related recreation: In 2023, that series was renamed “Cable, satellite, and live streaming television service.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

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