Visualization: Metro area employment and unemployment

An interactive visualization of labor force, employment, and unemployment rate for all metropolitan areas in the United States.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, makes monthly employment and unemployment statistics available. I’ve gathered them for all metropolitan areas and present them in an interactive visualization.

The labor force, specifically the civilian labor force, are those people working, plus those people actively searching for work, minus people under 16 years of age, minus people living in institutions (for example, correctional facilities, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes), minus people on active duty in the Armed Forces. (1)Bureau of Labor Statistics. Glossary. Available at

BLS defines unemployed people as: “Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.” (2)2. Ibid.

The unemployment rate is “the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.” (3)Ibid.

This data is called the Current Population Survey. It is a sampling of about 60,000 households and 110.000 persons, conducted by the United States Census Bureau. The data is gathered for the “reference week,” which is usually the week that includes the twelfth day of the month.

This data set is adjusted for seasonality and then smoothed, resulting in what BLS calls “Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates.” BLS explains:

Effective with the release of metropolitan area data for May 2011, the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program began to publish seasonally-adjusted civilian labor force and unemployment estimates for all metropolitan areas and metropolitan divisions. These data are updated via the downloadable files below on the day of each Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment news release. The files contain estimates from January 1990 forward. The statistical technique used to adjust estimates is SEATS, or Signal Extraction in ARIMA (Auto Regressive Integrated Moving Average) Time Series. Following seasonal adjustment, the data are smoothed using a Reproducing Kernel Hilbert Space (RKHS) filter. For each area and division, separate SEATS specifications are used to seasonally adjust employment and unemployment levels, from which civilian labor force levels and unemployment rates are then derived. The SEATS specifications also vary by decade (1990-99 and 2000 forward), in order to minimize performance problems stemming from decennial discontinuities in the not-seasonally-adjusted input data. (4)Bureau of Labor Statistics. Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates. Available at

In the visualization, you may select tabs to show a table, several charts, or a map. You may select a range of dates and the metro areas that appear.

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Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Glossary. Available at
2 2. Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates. Available at