Access U.S. Economic Data with FRED and ALFRED

The new Obama administration's emphasis on transparency and the recent economic crisis has focused a great deal of attention on the value of online APIs for accessing government data. One of the latest examples comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis who have recently released a new API to access their FRED database, a comprehensive collection of U.S. economic trends. The API also provides online access to ALFRED, an archive of historic economic data, which features information dating all the way back to the 1920s. We've added a FRED API Profile with technical details.

Their introduction gives a good, concise overview of FRED:

FRED® stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data. FRED® contains frequently updated US macro and regional economic time series at annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily frequencies. FRED® aggregates economic data from a variety of sources- most of which are US government agencies. The economic time series in FRED® contain observation or measurement periods associated with data values. For instance, the US unemployment rate for the month of January, 1990 was 5.4 percent and for the month of January, 2000 was 4.0 percent.

The FRED website describes the API as:

"a Web Service that allows developers to write programs and build applications that retrieve economic data from the FRED and ALFRED websites hosted by the Economic Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Requests can be customized according to data source, release, category, series, and other preferences."

The FRED API features a RESTful interface that uses GET requests to read data. Response data is returned as XML. Users who want to access the API need to sign up for a key. Developers are requested to use a separate key for every application they create.

Sample FRED data

The FRED API joins other interfaces that track federal economic data. For more on government APIs, see our recent coverage of Use of Mashups in the US Government, the Congress API, and our dashboard of government APIs.

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