The Great Recession ended in 2009. But millions of Americans remain unemployed, make less than they did before the recession and are stuck in homes valued below pre-recession levels. While the worst seems behind us, the data show that we have a long way to go.
But in a handful of states, the unemployment rate has fallen well below its recession-era apex, home values are up and the median income has risen. And no state has recovered better than North Dakota.
There are plenty of ways to measure the nascent recovery. But let’s examine three key indicators: the drop in a state’s unemployment rate between 2009, when the economy hit rock bottom, and this April; the difference in median income in 2009 and in 2012, the last year for which data is available; and the difference in median home prices before and after the recession, which I estimated by combining data from the Census Bureau and Trulia.com.
The numbers show that North Dakota is rebounding best. The state’s unemployment rate fell from an already low 4.1 percent to 2.6 percent, the lowest in the nation. The median income increased 4 percent, placing the state in the top five in income growth. The median home price rose 16 percent, from $112,300 before the recession to $130,500 just after, by far the sharpest percentage increase in the country.
Credit belongs to an energy boom sweeping through the Bakken oil fields in the western part of North Dakota. New oil production created high-paying jobs while other states were experiencing big layoffs. Energy-sector workers flocked to small towns near oil and gas fields. Scarce housing meant prices rose.
By contrast, states such as New York, Connecticut and Illinois are still struggling. New York ranks near the bottom in all three categories. The median income in Connecticut remains 7.4 percent below pre-recession levels. And Illinois’ unemployment rate is a stubbornly high 7.9 percent.
Of the other six states that improved across the board, three — Wyoming, Texas and West Virginia — are big energy producers. South Dakota and Montana benefited from nearby North Dakota’s good fortunes. South Carolina is the non-energy-producing outlier.
Other states deserve credit for making a comeback: The unemployment rates in South Carolina, Vermont and Utah have fallen by more than half since the worst of the recession. Median incomes have risen the most in the District, Maryland, Kansas and Montana. And housing prices have increased by more than 5 percent in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Louisiana.
But no state has pumped up more in all three categories than North Dakota.