A new, granular report shows just how varied the nation’s economic recovery is, differing substantially not just among states but even at the county level.
The report, by the National Association of Counties, takes an incredibly detailed look at the state of each of the nation’s counties. Their interactive County Tracker allows users to get county profiles that show how four economic indicators fared along four time periods. You can see output (measured as Gross Domestic Product), employment, unemployment and median home prices since 1990, the pre-recession peak, the recession trough and 2012.
Here are four of the report’s key takeaways:
1. Some counties saw no recession
The report on some 3,069 counties shows that, in some parts of the country, there was no recession. In dozens of counties across the nation, the economy never contracted, as evidenced by the darkest blue shading in the map below. And the lighter blue shading shows that many counties where the economy did contract have already made up for the lost ground. Although those counties that either skipped the recession or have since recovered are heavily concentrated in certain areas, but they are spread throughout the nation. Of course, the majority of counties still have a ways to go to recover. And only one county saw no downturn along any of the four metrics. (That is, while many counties saw no output recession, almost all were hit on jobs or home prices.)
2. Large counties are ground zero
The 122 counties with more than 500,000 residents make up a tiny fraction of the overall 3,069 counties, but they are home to more than half of all jobs and economic output. So, naturally, they were epicenters of the recession and recovery. The chart below shows how those few but large counties — located in all but 16 states — accounted for a much larger proportion of the economic contraction during the recession.
The overwhelming majority of large counties also saw economic output expand in the recovery, according to the report. Three in particular had especially large, manufacturing-driven growth: Texas’s Fort Bend and Collin counties and Washington’s Snohomish County.
3. Jobs are returning fastest to counties in Mass., N.D. and Texas
The map below is especially revealing because it tells a slightly different story than state-level data.
At the state level, North Dakota is a national leader in low unemployment, with joblessness at its lowest levels since 2001. Texas is somewhere in the middle of the pack, with unemployment at its lowest since late 2008, while Massachusetts is among the 10 states where joblessness has been hovering around the same number for months. The rates are all over the map for those three states: 2.6 percent in North Dakota, 6.1 percent in Texas and 7.1 percent in Massachusetts.
But the county-level data show the three have something in common: More than half the county economies in those states have enjoyed a jobs recovery. That means there are fewer weak spots for state officials to worry about and more pillars on which the state economy can rest. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the handful of states, which includes California, where fewer than 20 percent of county economies have yet to recover lost jobs, reflecting more widespread weakness.
4. The recession and recovery varied by region and county size
It may not be a tidy conclusion, but one of the takeaways from the report is that there is no takeaway: Counties of different sizes and in different parts of the country had different outcomes.
Generally, counties in every region of the country saw similar recovery levels on all indicators but median home sales, where a smaller share of counties in the Northeast and West have recovered. That makes sense given that a number of the places hit hardest by the housing bust were located in the South and West.
There was much more variation among differently sized counties. A larger share of small counties had milder recessions on median home prices and unemployment. The reverse was true for economic output, with a bigger share of large counties enjoying a short and/or shallow recession. On employment, small counties lagged behind medium and large ones.