FRASER began as a project to capture and make accessible revisions to data. Over time, FRASER grew to incorporate many other important documents that reflect economic history, but it still contains significant collections of economic data and visibility for data revisions. Complete runs of statistical series from the Board of Governors, as well as the major statistical agencies of the federal government, are available on FRASER.

Economic data series are typically published on a regular basis and later revised as new information is added. One data series that illustrates the health of the economy is Total Nonfarm Payroll Employment. This series (with the SERIES ID of PAYEMS on FRED) is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimate of the number of employees as counted by establishments. This number comes from the establishment data in the employment report; in other words, these are the employees reported to the BLS by establishments. Each month, policymakers, journalists, and the public watch the number of employees added to (or subtracted from) employment in the United States. Significant monthly additions to employment reflect a growing economy and improved prospects for employees. Significant monthly losses to employment reflect a struggling economy.

The BLS releases the Total Nonfarm Payroll Employment data on the first Friday of every month.[1] The data include the estimate for the preceding month’s nonfarm payroll employment plus revisions to the previous two months’ calculations of total nonfarm payroll employment. The data are benchmarked yearly against more comprehensive data and revised again. The initial employment report garners much attention from the press and policymakers, but the revisions also contain important information.

Revisions to headline data series have been captured as a data file (manipulable by statistical packages) by FRASER’s brother site, ALFRED (see the PAYEMS ALFRED download data page). Revisions to less-popular or much older series may be available only in FRASER. To see which series have been revised, look at the news releases for an indicator (“p” or “a”) next to the data. These indicate that the data are preliminary or advanced. Often the data are based on incomplete information, so as more information comes in, the data are revised. The example below shows the April 1980 Employment Situation report (released May 2, 1980) for payroll employment, noting that the initial reported change in employment from March to April 1980 was a loss of 479,000 jobs. Note that these particular data points have “p” next to them, indicating that they are preliminary data.

 

fraserfeatures_datarevisions

 

The Employment Situation is a prominent example of a government news release that provides an initial read on the economic condition. The Employment Situation is available on FRASER back to 1966; at this point, we are not aware of any other source for these news releases. The BLS provided the FRASER team with copies from 1966 to 1973, along with fill-ins for other missing issues. The rest were provided by libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program across the country.

 

[1] Technically, the report is published on the third Friday after the conclusion of the reference week, which is the week that includes the twelfth of the month. In practical terms, this usually means the first Friday of the month, except when it falls on the first of the month. See http://www.bls.gov/ces/ces_tabl.htm

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