Tag Archives: Federal Reserve

U.S. Labor Before FRED Was Born : A happy-birthday backward glance at 1991

Today, FRED celebrates its 28th birthday. On this happy occasion, the whole family (FRED, ALFRED, GeoFRED, and the little one, FREDcast) are gathering to read the 2018 Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, much of which is dedicated to FRED.
Let’s look back at the U.S. economy before the birth of FRED (on April 18, 1991) and compare it with the economy of today. The graph above shows the unemployed according to the length of their unemployment spell: We can see there are many more long-term unemployed today. The second graph, which uses a dataset first released right after FRED was born, shows that the U.S. labor force has also become more educated.

We can’t offer our readers any cake, but we do have pie…charts. The two charts below compare men and women in the labor force and show that the share of women has increased a bit

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Is the rent too high? : Way more than 525,600 minutes of rent data

If you’re a renter and have been complaining that your rent keeps rising, the statistics seem to back you up. In the graph, the purple line shows the evolution of rents in the U.S. as a whole, while the light blue line shows the general price level (CPI). Clearly, rents are increasing faster than prices overall. Of course, location matters for anything related to housing, and there are large regional differences: Rents in the New York and San Francisco areas have clearly appreciated more than average. Rents in the Detroit area have increased but well below the average rate; still, they’re keeping up with general inflation.
Note, however, that the graph shows the evolution of rents, but not their level. It shouldn’t be too surprising that rents in 1984 (the beginning of this sample) were higher in New York and San Francisco than in Detroit. And that gap has increased even

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Two trillion dollars in U.S. federal taxes : A breakdown of personal, corporate, and foreign sources of revenue

The deadline for filing personal income taxes is approaching fast, which you probably know. But how much do you know about the big picture for taxes? This FRED graph helps shed some light on the issue by showing the total amounts of federal taxes paid over the past 5 years, separated by the sources of those taxes. As of the fourth quarter of 2018, federal taxes amounted to over $2 trillion. Clearly, personal income taxes are far and away the largest contributor. Production taxes and import tariffs are now in second place, only recently surpassing corporate income taxes, which have decreased recently. In fourth place are taxes from the rest of the world.

Also, in the sample shown here, the recent tax reform is clearly visible, with dips in all sources of taxes from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018, with one exception: Production taxes and

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The absence of return on short-term Treasuries : Cash vs. 1-month Treasury bills

Is it worth it to buy 1-month Treasury bills? The above FRED graph shows their returns in recent years: While they often get very close to zero, at least they’re positive.* But “positive” may not count for much since we have to account for inflation. So let’s redo the graph by subtracting inflation from the return.

This exercise isn’t as simple as it might appear: First, we must factor-in inflation over the life of the bill, which is shorter than the period in which inflation is typically reported. Second, the Treasury return that’s reported in the data is annualized, meaning the monthly return is compounded to an annual return.

So here’s what we need to do to the CPI:

Take the percent change from the previous month, to match the maturity of the (1-month) billDivide it by 100, to get rid of the % unitsAdd 1, to prepare for compoundingTake the power of

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The big February employment miss

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its most recent employment report on March 8: In February of this year, the nonfarm economy, on net, created only 25,000 private-sector jobs and 20,000 jobs overall. One part of this report is the establishment survey, which contributed some of the weakest numbers since the past recession.

Forecasters failed to predict these anemic jobs numbers. In fact, before the report’s release, consensus market expectations foresaw 180,000 jobs being created in February. Thus, consensus expectations “missed” the February payroll number by 160,000 persons on the downside. The household survey component of the report was stronger, with the unemployment rate declining by 0.2%. According to the BLS, this decline in unemployment “reflects, in part, the return of federal workers who were furloughed in January due to the partial government shutdown.”

Another well-known statistic used to predict the BLS jobs number is the ADP national employment report. It’s

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The most constant economic series ever

Here at the FRED Blog, we often represent economic measures such as consumption or investment as a share of GDP. (For example, a recent post looked at the trade balance as a share of GDP.) We do this to account for general growth and inflation: Most macroeconomic measures grow over time because (1) the overall economy grows and (2) prices tend to increase. For many economic questions, what really matters is how economic measures relate to other measures, such as GDP. Now, when you add up all the components of GDP, you get GDP. This is exactly what we represent in the graph above, the share of GDP in GDP. This is an extremely important series to watch: If it deviates from its current trend, we know that something has gone terribly terribly wrong.

How this graph was created: Use the release tables on the percentage shares of GDP, select annual

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Is gold a good hedge against inflation?

According to conventional wisdom, holding gold is a good way to protect oneself against inflation. But let’s try to understand this wisdom a little better with the help of some FRED graphs. The graph above simply shows the monthly general inflation rate (from the CPI) and the monthly gold inflation rate. But this line graph doesn’t offer a very clear picture: The fluctuations in the price of gold are much larger than those for prices in general. So, instead, let’s try a scatter plot, shown below, where every point corresponds to a particular month and its pair of inflation rates. But, again, there’s not much to see here.

Now you may be asking, isn’t it true that, if the general price level is rising, so is the price of gold? To really measure how gold has appreciated, then, we need to remove CPI inflation from gold inflation. The resulting scatter plot

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Is the financial sector becoming more productive?

The Great Recession adversely affected employment across all industries. Since the recovery began in 2010, employment has rebounded and the unemployment rate started declining. But this recovery in employment has not been uniform across industries.

Employment in the financial sector has steadily declined as a share of total employment since the onset of the Great Recession. The financial sector averaged around 6.2% of total employment in the ten years preceding the Great Recession, from 1997 to 2007; in the recovery period, from 2010 to 2018, it averaged around 5.7%. It’s also interesting, but perhaps not very surprising, to note that the employment share in financial activities increased through the previous two recessions—in 1991 and in the early 2000s—but fell quite a bit during the Great Recession. And while total employment has grown by nearly 14% in the years spanning the recovery, from 2010 to 2018, financial employment has grown by only

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New data on burgeoning businesses : Business applications from the U.S. Census Bureau

View on GeoFRED®

New businesses are typically very small, so they’re not necessarily a strong factor in overall job creation. But they are a first step in the important process of “creative destruction”—the replacement of old, unproductive businesses by new businesses with new ideas, technologies, and processes. Eventually some of these new businesses will grow and become important factors in the economy, and a healthy economy makes it easy for these new businesses to be created. FRED now has data that allow us to compare this process across U.S. states.

The Bureau of the Census tracks the quarter and the U.S. state in which business applications are made. Then it tracks the quarter in which the new business appears on payroll data. This quarter-to-quarter measurement is obviously coarse, but it averages out to meaningful value given the number of these applications. The map above shows the average length of this interval for

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Sugar spikes : Fluctuations in the price of sugar

We watch oil prices fluctuate all the time. Of course, oil gets a lot of attention because it has visible and sometimes significant consequences for the rest of the economy. Other commodities may not enjoy the same status, but they often suffer the same fate of volatile prices. The FRED graph above tells the recent story of sugar. It’s remarkable that the price of a commodity produced and used across the globe can almost double for a while and then return to its original level. In fact, as the graph below shows for an earlier period, this volatility can be even more extreme.
What does it take to generate price spikes like these?

Supply issues, such as a world war
Poor harvests in the major producing regions
Political issues (For example, Cuba is a major producer of sugar cane.)
New uses, such as ethanol produced from sugar
Attempts at manipulating markets

In a way, all these factors

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