Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2016

4.3 - Unemployment: Unem.xls

from 4 - Macro Data with FRED in Excel


The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.

– John Maynard Keynes

Quick Summary

To access Unem.xls, visit

Unem.xls explains how to use the FRED Excel add-in to access labor market data. The focus is on understanding basic concepts (such as the unemployment rate and the labor force participation rate) and becoming aware of a few labor market facts, including the current state of the economy. Additional topics include seasonal adjustment, sampling, and a simple job search model.


  1. • download data on the unemployment rate and plot it (with recession bars); other variables are downloaded and basic definitions are illustrated with the data

  2. • download unemployment data on various subgroups and illustrate that the impact of unemployment on particular categories of people is extremely variable

  3. • Excel's PivotTable tool is used to find the monthly average in seasonally adjusted and not seasonally adjusted unemployment rates to show the seasonal pattern in the data

  4. • download data on the labor force participation rate and show the striking difference in men's and women's LFPR since World War II

  5. • explains the idea of sampling variability by sampling from a hypothetical population in Excel and using simulation to show the results from many samples

  6. • implements and solves a fixed sample search model with Monte Carlo simulation


FRED provides access to data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is the source of labor market measures such as unemployment and labor force participation rates. It also includes international measures of unemployment rates, harmonized for equivalent definitions of job search, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although not covered here, FRED also serves up data from Current Employment Statistics (CES, which is also known as the establishment survey) and the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). Thus, the FRED Excel add-in offers easily available, timely information on a wide variety of labor market indicators.

Definitions of variables and details on household surveys are left to textbooks and lecture notes. The Intro sheet contains a minimal review, including a layout of the framework used to organize various states of labor market activity and a few basic definitions.

The epigraph is from the opening sentence of the last chapter of Keynes, J. M., The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936),
An overview of seasonal adjustment is in a BLS technical bulletin, “Seasonal Adjustment” (February 2004). Employment and earnings are available online at The BLS maintains a list of resources on seasonal adjustment here:
Simulation in Excel is the foundation of Barreto, H. and Howland, F., Introductory Econometrics with Microsoft Excel Using Monte Carlo Simulation (Cambridge University Press, 2008), Implementing chance processes in Excel, repeating the process many times, and directly observing the results is a powerful way to teach and learn.