How can you stay informed about the economy? New Boston Fed tool updates regional data
Interactive tool makes current New England and national economic info instantly available
Economic data about New England and the U.S. is frequently updated, making it difficult for the public to keep up with the latest information. To help solve this problem, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston researchers are launching a new, interactive data tool that instantly shares key regional and national economic indicators.
The Boston Fed is constantly fielding questions about current economic conditions, said Jeffrey Thompson, a vice president and economist in the Bank’s Research Department.
“Keeping the public informed about economic conditions is part of the Boston Fed’s mission,” said Thompson, who directs the Bank’s New England Public Policy Center (or NEPPC). “These changes allow us to speak to people in what’s now a nearly universal language: visual, interactive, and easily accessible tools.”
The updated New England Economic Indicators page is now the single stop for a new interactive graph tool and downloadable state-level “snapshots,” as well as the Bank’s New England Economic Conditions series and the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book.
Access to reliable and up-to-date economic data is critical to policymakers, Thompson said.
“Information about the regional economy can influence policy priorities, and we need to have a solid understanding of current conditions and where things are headed,” he said.
New interactive tool features the latest data on labor, prices, trade, more
Riley Sullivan, an NEPPC senior policy analyst who helped create the tool, said its data is automatically refreshed twice a day. Any updates from its sources – including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and other agencies – will be shown on the tool that same day.
The collection of graphs currently includes national and state level data on the labor force, wages, prices, and more, Sullivan said. He noted that NEPPC economists chose topics they’re frequently asked about during public talks when deciding what to include in the tool.
For example, knowing labor force participation rates is key to better understanding New England’s tight labor market, a popular economic topic, he said. The tool shows how labor force participation dropped regionally and nationwide at the onset of COVID-19. And now, while most New England states seem to be recovering, Maine’s participation rate remains much lower than pre-pandemic levels.
“We really care about how many people are currently looking for work or actively working in the region,” he said.
The team also decided to include data on the region’s trading patterns and exports, although those numbers don’t typically make headlines, Sullivan said.
“New England has so much interstate commerce. We interact a lot with our neighboring states and other parts of the country,” he said. “So, it's critical to see how our peer states are doing compared to the nation, and I think that really benefits policymakers here.”
Thompson: Data shows slowed housing production; tool will expand to include more info
Thompson pointed to another topic crucial to New England’s economy that the tool helps clarify: housing. Using information from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the interactive charts show how housing prices spiked across the region and nationally in 2021.
“Price increases have settled down since then. But after that huge surge, the markets haven’t given up any of their previous gains,” he said. “You can see how our affordability issues have become exacerbated in the post-pandemic era.”
At the same time, data on authorized housing permits from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that housing construction has slowed down in New England and nationally.
“There was a flurry of activity earlier in the pandemic era, but that's pretty much fizzled out,” Thompson said. “We still have a lot more that needs to be done on the housing production side.”
He said additional data series will be added to the tool going forward, and the team is open to suggestions.
“Now that the basic features are constructed, we’ll be growing it quite rapidly in the near- and long terms,” he said. “We want to continue to reach people where they are.”