The story of the recession, as told through 8 beautiful Atlanta Fed graphics

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta released its annual report on Tuesday and it’s beautiful. Really. Go check it out. We’ll wait.

It’s big, bold and colorful, though the subject matter is serious: it’s all about the middling jobs recovery. The interactive report is highly visual, a mix of graphics, charts and text that seek to describe where the labor market stands, what’s holding it back and what can be done. The entire thing is worth exploring.

We pulled our eight favorite visuals from the report below because, well, they do a pretty good job telling the story of the Great Recession and subsequent, mediocre, recovery.

Where things stand

1. The state of state unemployment

The chart below takes a look at unemployment rates by state. It’s a pretty mixed bag. In most states, unemployment is north of 6 percent. And, while we reported earlier this week that the numbers for January show 30 states at post-recession lows, that victory masks unhealthiness in the labor market. Earnings for low-wage workers have dropped in all but a few states and long-term unemployment is still at record highs in most.

But, still, things are trending in the right direction. The map at the bottom of the infographic below shows that, in all but two states, employment fell between December 2012 and December 2013. States are on their way, just not fast enough.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)
(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

 

2. Recoveries have been getting longer and longer

One of the first interactives in the Fed report makes a crucial point about the recent recoveries: they’re getting longer. On average, it took about 10 months to recover the jobs lost from the seven recessions between 1950 and 1989. But, more than 50 months into the current recovery by the end of last year, the nation was still about a million jobs shy of where it was when the recession started.


(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

3. Alternative measures reveal some intractable problems

The graphic below paints a more-nuanced—and even less positive—picture. This recession has been marked by historically long periods of unemployment. The chart at the very bottom of this graphic shows a few alternative measures of unemployment, ones that account for people who, for economic reasons, are no longer searching for jobs or are working part-time instead.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)
(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

4. People are dropping out of the labor market

By the end of last year, labor force participation—the share of people seeking jobs—was at its lowest level since the late 1970s.

These charts paint a somewhat disturbing picture. The first shows that, in all but one age group, labor-force participation has been on the decline since 2000. That is, the share of people working has been shrinking. The only demographic for whom that isn’t true? Those aged 55 years or older—the one group where fewer and fewer relative workers is somewhat welcome.

The second chart shows that overall labor force participation has dropped in all the southeastern states under the Atlanta Fed’s purview, too.


(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

5. Some of that dropping participation may be due to age

Research has suggested about half of that drop in labor force participation may be due to population changes, including baby boomers approaching retirement age. (The share of the total population that’s 55 and older rose by almost four percentage points since 2007.) The other half of what’s driving decreased population is less clear, however. The chart below shows how reasons for being out of the labor market change with age.


(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

What’s holding the labor market back?

6. Polarization

The middle has dropped out from the labor market over the past three decades. Jobs that require the most and least skills eat up a larger share of the market, leaving workers with middle-level skills fighting for a smaller and smaller share of jobs. A significant driver of that trend? Offshoring of manufacturing and other jobs.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)
(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

7. The skills mismatch

The recovery has been complicated by the fact that the jobs recovered are not the same as the ones lost. About half the jobs lost during 2008 and 2009 (with a couple months on either end) were construction or manufacturing jobs. But only 10 percent of the job openings following that period have been in those sectors. That skills mismatch may explain some of the sluggish jobs recovery, however, “but it’s far from the full story,” the Fed reported.

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)
(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

8. Uncertainty has slowed the recovery, too

Anecdotal evidence and research suggest that economic uncertainty can affect and delay important business decisions such as hiring and investment. And the charts below show both are at high levels relative to the last few years.


(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

(Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)

So what next? How can the nation add more jobs? The Fed report delves into that, too. But we’ll leave explaining that to them.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.

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Niraj Chokshi · March 19, 2014

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