Economic data, right at your fingertips

Posted: March 07, 2013

In the era of serial Washington budget crises, you don't have to be a wonk to find the real numbers behind politicians' walls of words (like sequester). Just use these smartphone applications about the state of the economy.

FRED Economic Data, free from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, is available for Apple and Android devices. "Take the economy with you wherever you go," suggests the Fed. Want to see the bank's latest data on inflation, gross domestic product, unemployment, or any of the myriad of statistics kept by the Fed? FRED displays the numbers, turns them into simple charts, and supplies enough of a narrative to make some sense of it all.

Fred lets you share the numbers nuggets you love on Twitter and Facebook or by e-mail. You can also check out GDP and deficit numbers for foreign countries and extensive stats for all the big players such as China, Germany and Japan.

To learn the difference between micro- and macroeconomics, nominal and real GDP, fiscal and monetary policy, or anything else about serious economics, try the Economics Classroom app, by Jason Welker, which has videos, an economics dictionary, and other help with the so-called dismal science.

An iPhone app, Wonky Chart (99 cents from Wonky Chart L.L.C.) has thousands of charts - way more colorful ones than FRED's - that are drawn from numbers at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Congressional Budget Office, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Census Bureau, among others. A collection of videos explain subject areas and how to use the charts, and include a tutorial for chart-reading novices.

Wonky Chart has charts that compare recessions and track tax rates, wealth and poverty, to mention a few. Tap the "Info" button on a chart page for notes on how to read the chart.

You can also get the latest economic reports - such as the most recent on construction spending, personal income, and gross domestic product - with an app from the U.S. Census Bureau. It's called America's Economy and is free for Apple and Android phones and tablets.

The app claims "real-time updates for 16 key economic indicators" that are regularly reported by the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

A calendar tells you when reports are due out. Tap one of the latest listed reports for details on what the report means, along with a chart and icons for sharing your newfound knowledge via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.

Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, or @ReidKan on Twitter.

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