Monday, November 15, 2010

Jealousy Bars

As someone who loves graphs, I've long been jealous of the "recession bars" that show up on the FRED graphs and some others. So finally it occurred to me to google it. I type recession b and Google offers recession bars excel, which is perfect.

First thing that comes up is a 4-page PDF from the St. Louis Fed (almost all pictures, very few words) that shows the whole thing in four steps. (I didn't count 'em.) And it worked! (I was using Excel 2003, FYI.)

Only trouble I had was in the last step. See how they've emphasized the "Overlap" item here on the form? But if you look again you can see they left the cursor in the "Gap Width" item, below "Overlap."

Gap Width is the one you have to set to zero, or you'll get 5 skinny recession bars for 1929-1933, rather than one fat one!


As someone who is inexplicably fussy about petty little things, I have to point this out: Recessions start and end dates are given as month-and-year. So if your data is monthly, you're good. If your data is weekly, or daily for that matter, you're okay. But if your data is annual, you have to be subjective. For example, for the recession that starts in July of 1981, you have to choose whether to show it for all of 1981, or none of 1981.

Your recession bars in this case will show the year of recession, which is useful. But your bars won't show whether the recession starts early or late in the year. So it's not perfect. I'm calling these imperfect recession bars "jealousy bars" because (perfect or no) I just have to hav'em.

Oh... The second thing that comes up in that Google search answers the question, What dates are used for the US recession bars in FRED® graphs? That's where you can get the recession dates for "step one" of the PDF.


I had in mind to subtitle this post "Your Tax Dollars at Work" because that very nice PDF comes from the Federal Reserve (St. Louis). But that's not right. The right subtitle might be "Your Interest Payments at Work."

That's okay. I really like the St. Louis Fed.

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