Economy Now

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When the unemployment rate was 25%

August 22, 2012: 10:37 AM ET

Think 8.3% unemployment is bad? It could be much worse.

In 1933, the unemployment rate surged as high as 25.6%.

The nifty chart above comes from FRED, an economic database compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Just yesterday, the economists there added more than 3,000 new data sets to the tool, stemming from theĀ National Bureau of Economic Research's extensive archives.

Never before has it been so easy for average Joes to dig up economic statistics from prior to WWII. You can create the chart above with just a few clicks of a mouse, or on your iPhone, iPad or Droid.

This chart shows the unemployment rate, as collected by three different data sets. The government only started collecting the information in 1940, when the monthly survey began as part of the Work Projects Administration, and it has tweaked its methodology several times since.

Before then, other economists found their own ways to estimate the unemployment rate. On this chart, the red data comes from Geoffrey H. Moore, an expert on business cycles, who worked for NBER and founded the Economic Cycle Research Institute. As a professor at NYU, he also taught statistics to later Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

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About This Author
Annalyn Censky
Annalyn Kurtz
Writer, CNNMoney

Annalyn Kurtz is a senior writer at CNNMoney, where she covers America's jobs crisis, Federal Reserve policy and other economic news. Before joining the site in 2010, she served as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Prague and interned at Fortune Small Business magazine. @annalynkurtz

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