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February 14
2013 in Retrospective: The Recovery of Large Counties

As 2014 starts unfolding, the NACo research team looked into how county economies fared last year and over the recession and recovery to better understand the baselines and growth trends across the country.  With this goal in mind, NACo released County Tracker 2013, a study together with a web-based map interactive that examines the recession and recovery patterns across county economies based on the analysis of annual changes in four economic indicators — economic output (GDP), jobs, unemployment rates and home prices.

2013 has been a relatively good year and the U.S. economy is improving.  However, the recovery remains fragile and uneven, with high unemployment rates and employment still below pre-recession levels.  Large county economies were part of this story of uneven and fragile recovery across county economies.

The 122 large county economies — the economies of counties with more than 500,000 residents — anchor the economy of their metropolitan areas and states.  Only 4 percent of all the 3,069 county economies, they represent more than half of all jobs and concentrate 57 percent of county economies’ output (GDP).  They have been at the core of the recession and recovery, with the majority of the jobs lost during the recession and gained during recovery located in large counties.

All the economic indicators analyzed in the study saw significant drops (or rises in the case of unemployment) during the recession across large county economies.  For example, the employment declines lasted three and a half years on average, with 2 percent annual declines.  The loss of jobs combined with a growing labor force pushed the average unemployment rate for large county economies to 9.7 percent by 2010.  This put more pressure on the safety net, one of the functions of county governments.

Though the recession hit them especially hard, large county economies rebounded quickly and continued to grow into 2013.  Large county economies came back faster than the rest of the county economies in terms of economic output and jobs.  By 2013, the economic output (GDP) came back in two-thirds of large county economies, more than the 50 percent recovery rate for all county economies.  Jobs recovered in about a third of large county economies, while only a quarter of all counties close the recession jobs gap. The housing market was also on the rebound, however it has a longer way to go as the housing boom and bust was most evident in large county economies.  But unemployment has not recovered in any of the large county economies, showing the fragility of the recovery.

To help NACo members get a close look at the indicators for their county economy and compare with other county economies in counties of the same size, the NACo research team prepared profiles for each county economy, all of which are available through the County Tracker web map interactive available at .  NACo members can go directly to their county location on the map interactive and access the indicators for 2013, recovery, recession or long term for their county economy; download and print the one page PDF profile or go on the interactive and compare with other county economies of the same size in their state or other states across the country.

NACo also conducted a webinar with members explaining the value of this new tool and how members can use it in their daily work. All NACo members can access a recording of the County Tracker webinar at


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