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Special Reports

Macroeconomic Data: A User

Edited by senior economist Roy Webb, the third edition of this user's guide was published in 1995. Although it is no longer in print, the guide is still frequently used by members of the academic and economic communities.

Aggregate data on jobs, unemployment and earnings are closely watched by millions of Americans. The unemployment rate may be the single economic indicator most closely followed by journalists and the general population. Among financial market participants, the number of people employed receives particular scrutiny. These and other selected labor market indicators are described in this article.

Price indexes allow one to compare the average levels of prices at different times. By summarizing information on price trends, the indexes help people adjust for inflation when they choose how much to save, spend, and work. Government officials, as well as voters, use price indexes to evaluate economic policies. In addition, both private contracts and government programs often use a particular price index to adjust payments for inflation.

It would be hard to overstate the value of the national income and product accounts to economists. They summarize the millions of economic transactions that occur in the nation each day and present the data in a readily comprehensible form. Their important role can be observed by noting that discussions of current economic conditions usually focus on real gross domestic product (GDP) and its components. In addition, macroeconomic research critically depends on the hundreds of interrelated items in the accounts.

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