How to Use the SF Fed Data Explorer
SF Fed Data Explorer gives you the ability to compare labor market outcomes for different demographic groups based on Current Population Survey data from the Census Bureau.
Learn more about how to use the Data Explorer in our Tutorial videos. If you have more specific questions related to the Data Explorer, check out our Frequently Asked Questions and, when you are ready, launch the Data Explorer!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How are the start and end dates for recession shading determined?
Start and end dates for recessions are based on the NBER’s (National Bureau of Economic Research) chronology of business cycles. Recessions begin at the “peak” month and end at the “trough” month. Precise dates can be found at US Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions | NBER
Q: How do I decide which tab to use, between “Labor Market Status,” “Shifts in Labor Market Status (Flows),” and “Weekly Earnings”?
The “Labor Market Status” tab reports a labor statistic by its level, either as an absolute number or as a percentage. These levels are referred to as “stock variables” in economic terminology, and they reflect a specific measurement at a point in time. An example of a stock variable is the unemployment rate, because it can be measured by looking at one point in time.
The “Shifts in Labor Market Status (Flows)” tab tracks how labor statistic data shift over periods of time. These shifts are referred to as “flow variables” in economic terminology, and they reflect how measurement values change over specific time periods, such as from one month to the next. An example of a flow variable is the “Unemployed-Employed Flow Rate,” which measures the percentage of people who shifted from being employed in one month to unemployed in the following month.
The “Weekly Earnings” tab tracks earnings by specific demographic groups, which is referred to as “earnings variables” in economic terminology. The earnings variable used in the Data Explorer is “Median Usual Weekly Earnings,” which provides a measure of workers’ earnings in a specific week.
Q: What kind of charts can I make with the Data Explorer?
You can make two types of charts. First, you can make time-series line charts, which allow you to track the progression of a variable (such as Unemployment in people ages 25 to 54) over a period of time. To look at time-series charts, go to “Time Series View” under Display Options.
You can also generate pie charts to examine the demographic breakdown of a variable in a specific month. For instance, you can generate a chart that breaks down the employed female population by education. To look at pie charts, go to “Point-in-Time Breakdown” under Display Options.
Q: How do I build my own time-series chart using the Data Explorer?
To generate your own time-series chart, begin by selecting one of the labor statistics (such as Unemployment Rate), then select “Build Your Own Chart” under Select View Mode. For a more detailed breakdown of the labor statistic, you may select an option (for example, Age Group) under the “Demographic Category.” If you are interested in dividing demographic groups according to more specific details (such as Unemployment Rate for different education groups among people ages 25 to 54), you can make a selection under “Refine,” then choose another demographic category in the drop-down menu. For instance, these selections:
Will produce Chart Code 11307100991o000021230000000000
If you are interested in comparing two time series within one chart, you may also select a different labor statistic under “Series Two.” Refining by demographic group works in the same way as in Series One.
Q: How do I make my own pie chart using the Data Explorer?
To generate your own pie chart, begin by picking “Point-in-Time Breakdown” under Display Options. From there, choose the Year/Month you would like to learn more about. Next, select the Labor Statistic you are interested in, such as “Unemployed (#).” To see how the number of unemployed people differs according to a specific demographic (such as Education), select that option under “Demographic Breakdown.” If you are only interested in looking at that breakdown within a specific demographic group, you may specify your choice under “Refine by Demographic Group (Optional).” For example, for January 2018, to view the number(#) of Unemployed among people ages 16 to 24 according to their level of education, make these selections:
This will display the following pie chart, with Chart Code 124093600000000003011000000000
Q: What does it mean for data to be “seasonally adjusted”?
Seasonal adjustment attempts to remove seasonal fluctuations from the underlying data set. Shifts in non-seasonally adjusted data may be caused by conditions that are outside of the main factors you are intending to measure, such as holidays, weather patterns, and school schedules. By removing these impacts through seasonal adjustment, we can more directly examine, compare, and interpret the underlying trends.
Q: How can I find the source of the data used in the Data Explorer?
All data used in the Data Explorer can be found in the Current Population Survey (CPS).
If you are interested in obtaining the data used to generate a specific chart, you can use the “Download Chart Data” button for the chart you are viewing, which will generate a .csv file.
Q: How are moving averages calculated?
Moving averages are a mean average of data for a specific number of preceding months. For example, the three-month moving average is the average of the current month and the two months that precede it.
Q: What are Chart Codes, and how can I use them?
Chart Codes are automatically generated when you create a chart. Copy the 30-character code that appears below your chart to save for later or to share with others. To return to the chart, enter the code in the box at the top of the Data Explorer page, pictured here:
Q: What does the Index to Base Date option do?
If you are examining charts that involve percentages, it may be useful to index each of your data series to a common value point on a specific date. Using this feature enables you to fix all the data points for that date to 100%, which makes it easier to make relative comparisons from a common point for each of the data series. This also allows you to see how much a variable has changed since the selected Base Date. For instance, if you are interested in growth in the Labor Force Participation Rate since April 2020, then using Build Your Own Chart with these selected options
Will produce Chart Code 115072009908096311000000000000
Using these parameters shows that the Labor Force Participation Rate in April 2022 was 3% higher than in April 2020.
Q: What is the difference between Industry and Occupation in the Demographic Options?
We follow the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) definitions, which are described as follows on their website: “The occupational classification reflects the type of job or work that the person does, while the industry classification reflects the business activity of their employer or company. The occupational and industry classifications are based on a person’s sole or primary job, unless otherwise specified. For the unemployed, the occupation and industry are based on the last job held.”
More information can be found at Historical comparability of occupation and industry data from the Current Population Survey (bls.gov).
Q: How do I remove lines from my chart?
To remove a particular line from a chart, click on the description of the line in the legend below the chart. For instance, clicking on “16 to 24”
removes the green line from the chart, which results in the following chart
In the chart legend, “16 to 24” is now grayed out. To add the green line back, click “16 to 24” in the legend again. You may add or remove any number of lines from the final chart.
You can also display or remove the overall average by using the “Include Overall Line” button in the chart options.
Q: What does the “Inflation Adjustment” option under the earnings tab do?
The Inflation Adjustment option allows you to decide whether you would like to look at nominal earnings (unadjusted) or real earnings (inflation adjusted). We use consumer price index (CPI) inflation to calculate real earnings, which are indexed with the value of 1982-1984 U.S. dollars equaling 100.
Q: How can I contact the creators of the Data Explorer if I have further questions?
Q: How can I cite charts generated by the Data Explorer?
Please cite as: SF Fed Data Explorer, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Retrieved Month DD, YYYY; based on most recent Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/sf-fed-data-explorer/
Q: How do I download the chart I’ve created using the Data Explorer?
Once you’ve generated a chart, hover your cursor over it and a row of icons will appear near the top right corner of the chart area. To save an image (png) of your chart, click on the camera icon (circled below in red).
Q: How far back do the data go?
All “stock” variables begin in January 1976. All “flow” variables begin in February 1994. Median Usual Weekly Earnings begin as of January 1982. However, certain demographic options do not extend as far back as the base data. For example, the “Industry” and “Occupation” demographic options only go back to January 2000.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
Our Starter Guide is available as a downloadable pdf. In addition to our Tutorial video series, users can find definitions for many labor market terms in the boxes below each Data Explorer chart.
For questions about the SF Fed Data Explorer, please contact us
For media requests, please contact our Media Team
The SF Fed Data Explorer was developed by the San Francisco Fed’s Economic Research Department staff. Learn more about our work and other research.
If you use the SF Fed Data Explorer in your own writings and publications, we ask that you cite this page:
SF Fed Data Explorer, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Retrieved Month DD, YYYY; based on most recent Current Population Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/sf-fed-data-explorer/