April 3, 2015

by Keith G. Taylor of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

FRED® is a web-based aggregator of economic and social science time series data operated by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which provides a set of tools to find, download, analyze, visualize, and otherwise understand these data.

Let’s deconstruct that statement.

FRED is free!

First off, FRED is free. You don’t even have to register for an account to use the data (and most of our tools). More on user accounts in a moment.

Where do the data come from?

FRED is an aggregation website, so most of the data come from other sources, such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis (source of gross domestic product) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (source of the consumer price index and unemployment rate). One could spend time traveling to these many data providers and learning the structures of their websites. Or one could learn how to use FRED and get all these data in one place. FRED currently compiles data from over 75 US and international sources and counting. Here’s a list.

What is the St. Louis Fed, again?

The St. Louis Fed is one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the Federal Reserve System, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, DC. The Federal Reserve is responsible for conducting monetary policy and fostering a sound financial system. All of the Reserve Banks are similar in many ways and share some duties. But, because the Reserve Banks are independent of one another, each has some specialized assignments and tasks that distinguish it. The St. Louis Fed has a long tradition of making data available to researchers and the general public to help them make better-informed decisions.

Macroeconomic time what?

Most of the data in FRED are “macroeconomic time series.” Think of a time series this way: It is a series of data points that measure a concept (such as price inflation or employment) over time. For example, the graph below shows gross domestic product for the United States over the past ten years. GDP is a measure of the goods and services produced in the economy.


Now macroeconomics is the whole economy. So we’ve got you covered with series like GDP, consumer price index, and the unemployment rate.

Speaking of the whole economy, don’t make the mistake that others have and assume we have data only for the St. Louis region. No, no, no. We have data that cover the counties, metro areas, and states for the US, not to mention international data. Recently we expanded into social science data, too. So you can measure the homeownership rate for the US and map net migration throughout the world. We’re always adding more data; if you can’t find what you need today, drop us a line and check us out in the future.

We’re also timely with our time series. We update FRED with the latest data as quickly as possible. Major series (the ones reported in the media headlines) are updated in FRED within 15 minutes. All other series take a bit longer to update, but are updated on the same day the new data come in.

Tools, tools everywhere.

FRED provides a suite of tools for making sense of time series. You can make a graph of data with a few clicks, download the data with another click, and map the data with a final click.

Our user accounts make it easy to do all sorts of extra cool things: subscribe to email notifications of data series updates, save graphs, create data lists, and easily share it all through social media or posting on your own website. Graphs can be saved so they automatically update with the latest data. For example, you can save a graph that only shows the unemployment rate for the last 12 months. If you need to see a bunch of indicators all at one time, then you can create a dashboard. Our dashboards are essentially webpages that you can customize with charts, data points, and data tables using FRED data that are always up-to-date. The dashboard can be made public and shared with your friends, families, and colleagues. Data lists are collection of series that you can create and then share and download. For example, you could create a data list with the educational attainment for all the counties in Missouri.

With a few extra clicks, you can create complex graphs that show multiple series, contain user-defined lines, and combine multiple series together to create new series. With FRED, you can create line, bar, pie, area, scatter plots, and stacked charts. You also have options to select growth rates and change the frequency of the data (from, say , monthly to yearly). The design-minded FRED user can also change the colors, sizes, fonts, and other features of the graph.

If you need even more computational power, download our free Microsoft® Excel® Add-in to pull FRED data directly into Excel. Statistical packages like SAS, STATA, R, and Matlab provide plugins to load data directly from FRED, too. We’ve also got apps to give you the FRED experience on Android or iOS devices.

How do I…?

At this point, you’re probably saying one of two things to yourself: 1. “FRED, you are so cool. Where have you been all my life and how can I learn more?” Or 2. “Wow. This is a bit overwhelming, but I can see why it’s useful. Maybe I could learn more…” FRED’s got your back. We have FRED blog, which demonstrates data literacy and economic concepts using FRED tools. We also have Page One Economics, which takes a deeper dive into an economics (usually right out of the news) and features a FRED graph or GeoFRED map. Of course we also have FAQs on our website. You can also call or email a real, live human being to learn more about the data, FRED tools, and FRED usability.

That’s all, folks.

You’ve just gone on a whirlwind tour of FRED. No doubt you’ve seen how it can help you conduct research, teach, and–dare I say it–have a little fun! Drop us a line at 314-444-4448 or if you’ve got questions or comments.

money and povertyThis post is part of the April 2015 “Money and Poverty” series of the Institute for Public Health’s blog. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive notifications about our latest blog posts.

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