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Labor Economics Data Practice with FRED – “Employment & The Labor Force”

In this assignment, you will use the St. Louis Federal Reserve Education Database (FRED) to explore the various data sources that measure the state of employment in the United States (namely, the Current Population Survey (commonly called the Household Survey) and the Establishment Survey). You will also be responsible for creating, editing, and interpreting data in a FRED series.


Written material should be typed, 12 pt. font, double spaced with 1 inch margins. Please do not ask me to accept assignments that are not combined, and please do not exceed the space limit of two written pages of text–my grading will stop there. When you are ready to submit your project, please include your paper and the file containing your data.

The purpose of this assignment is to:

Give you some experience using data and manipulating graphs to tell a story.
Use FRED to Find Employment and the Labor Force Data

Employment is an important measure of an economy’s health. Economists and policymakers examine several data sources to assess the state of employment in the United States. The data are available on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ FRED database. The following steps give you an opportunity to access the data and make some observations.


The most important FRED data source for employment is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Report. This report is probably the most anticipated of all economic reports—it measures the growth (or loss) of jobs, whether individuals are in the workforce, and household earnings. The report consists of two parts: the Current Population Survey (commonly called the Household Survey) and the Establishment Survey. As you may have guessed, the Household Survey questions households about their participation in the workforce and wages earned. The Establishment Survey (sometimes called the payroll survey) questions private businesses, companies, and government agencies about their changes in staffing. This exercise begins with the Household Survey portion (it is much smaller) and then moves to the Establishment Survey portion of the report.


Looking at the Unemployment Rate:

Start at the FRED website ( To begin looking at employment data, click on the categories tab.
Under the Population, Employment & Labor Markets category, choose the Current Population Survey (Household Survey) The number in parentheses after each category listed indicates how many series are available in that category.
Here you will see a list of possible data series. Data are sorted initially by popularity. They can also be sorted several other ways—by start or end date, units, seasonal adjustment, and update date. Select Unemployment Rate from the list of categories, and then choose Civilian Unemployment Rate, usually the first (the most popular) series. To bring up the series, click on the title.
The graph shows the entire history of the series and allows options to view or download the data. Now, choose Download in the upper right corner of the page to view all of the data in an Excel file.
Look at the data and then answer the following question in your write-up: What is the highest unemployment rate recorded since 1948 and when did it occur?
Looking at the Change in Employment:

Next, go back to the Population, Employment & Labor Markets main category, and choose the Establishment Survey Data.
Within that category, choose the Total Nonfarm category
Within the Total Nonfarm category, choose All Employees: Total Nonfarm Payrolls, seasonally adjusted. This series represents the number of people reported as employed by companies (so, if a person has two jobs, they are counted as two employed persons).
This will be the first graph you will edit for your write-up. To make changes to the graph, select the Edit Graph button in the upper-right corner of the page.
A window should appear that will allow you to Edit Line 1 (All Employees: Total Nonfarm Payrolls). This window will allow you to make several changes to the display. Two items will be changed: the units and the date range.
The data are in thousands (notice the label on the y-axis). To show the data as a change from the previous month, click on the pull-down next to Units, then choose Change, Thousands of Persons. You can now close the edit window for this graph.
Next, change the data range from the default (entire range) to the last 10 years. Above the graph lists the date range for the data. Click the link for 10Y link to show only the last ten years of data. The graph will automatically update as you change variables.
Save this graph by clicking on the Download tab. Include it in your write-up as part of the appendix.
Putting it Together

Go back to the category of Establishment Survey Data. You will now compare the number of jobs from several different areas of the economy (for this portion of the project, use construction and retail). This requires locating one series and then adding others to the graph. To do this, first choose Construction as a category.
Choose the All Employees: Construction, seasonally adjusted, series in the category (again, sorted by popularity).
To add another series for comparison, choose the Edit Graph tab link above the graph. Select Add Line tab to bring up a search bar to add more data to the graph your graph. To add a line showing the number of employees in the retail trade industry, begin typing Employees Retail Trade. FRED will suggest likely data series as you type. Choose All Employees: Retail Trade. Make sure you select the seasonally adjusted data series.
You now have a graph with the number of construction employees in blue and the number of retail trade employees in red. Consider adding other industries to the graph. You may want to add All Employees: Financial Activities or All Employees: Professional and Business Services.
Select at least one more set of employees to add to the graph and then save your new graph to be included in the appendix of your write-up.
Looking at Labor Force Participation Rates

As a final way of studying employment, let’s look at some labor force participation rates. This will be an opportunity to create a single graph with multiple lines from a list. Choose the Current Population Survey (Household Survey).
Then choose the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate.
Select the labor force participation rates for Men and Women by checking the boxes located next to the entries. Click Add to Graph to create a single graph with both data series already together.
The line for men’s labor force participation is blue, the line for women is red.
In your write-up, discuss some of the historical factors driving the change in labor force participation rates for men and women.
What Do You Want to Look at?

Use the FRED Data site to lookup the relationship between variables of your choosing. You are welcome to select from any of the datasets provided by FRED, so long as they are tangentially related to labor economics (For example, you can look at the number of new housing construction and the total number of employees in the construction industry to look at the derived demand for construction workers.). In addition to the work you’ve done above, create at least two more graphs containing different sets of variables and discuss what you find.

Your Write-up

Write out, in two double-spaced, typewritten pages:

A brief description of what you did and why you did it.
Answer the questions above and discuss the graphs you saved.


Include the graphs at the back of your write up. Everything should be *combined* together into a single file and follow the formatting specified at the top of this assignment. Take care to make your graphs clear and visually pleasing: in business, presentation matters.


Project Discussion Post

For your discussion post, select one of your graphs from the “What Do You Want to Look at?” Section and share with your classmates. Write a 100-word post about why you selected the variables you did and what results you found. Comment on at least 2 other classmates’ posts.

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