I am trying to create a time series visualization of unemployment rates for every county in the continental US using ArcMap 10.3.1.

I have data for every month going back to January 1990, but when I try to join it to my county shapefile in ArcMap, I get an error message because the spreadsheet has too many columns.

How can I join this spreadsheet to a shapefile such that I can symbolize the same shapefile by each field for which I have data?


The maximum number of columns you can have in a Shapefile is 255.

See Geoprocessing considerations for shapefile output

The maximum number of fields is 255. A conversion to shapefile will convert the first 255 fields if this limit is exceeded.

If using ArcMap you could look at using a File Geodatabase which has a limit of 655,346 fields per table (which should be enough for what you're doing).

See FAQ: Is there a limit to the number of fields that can be added to a table or feature class in a geodatabase?

The number of allowable fields for any feature class or table in a geodatabase depends on the limitations of the database in which the geodatabase is stored. While file geodatabases have a limit of 655346 fields per table, the limit for personal geodatabases is governed by the .mdb file format, which has a limit of 255 fields per table. Therefore, personal geodatabases stored in an Access database may have a feature class or table with no more than 255 fields. The answer for feature classes or tables stored in an ArcSDE Geodatabase varies depending on the underlying DBMS.

  • 1
    While file geodatabase can store an ungodly number of fields, that doesn't mean that this isn't the absolute wrong way to model this data. EF Codd's gravesite would be spinning so fast as to generate a magnetic flux that would be hazard to navigation – Vince Jun 24 '20 at 1:34
  • @Vince I agree, there are likely better ways to handle this – Midavalo Jun 24 '20 at 23:29

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