County Tracker 2013: On the Path to Recovery


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By Emilia Istrate and Nick Lyell

An analysis of annual changes of four economic performance indicators economic output (GDP), employment, unemployment rates and home pricesbetween 2012 and 2013 across the 3,069 county economies reveals that:

  • Growth continued in 2013, but the recovery is still fragile in some parts of the country. Across all regions, county economies registered at least modest growth in economic output (GDP), jobs and home prices and drops in unemployment in 2013. About half of U.S. county economies had no recession or recovered their economic output (GDP) lost during the recession by 2013, most of them in the South.  About 800 county economies, mostly in the South and Midwest, had no drops in employment or were above their pre-recession levels in 2013. The housing sector witnessed the largest increase in recovery rates between 2012 and 2013 among all the indicators analyzed. Only 54 county economies, mostly in the Midwest, reached their pre-recession unemployment levels.
  • ​​Large county economies were at the core of the recession and the recovery. Only 4 percent of the 3,069 county economies, the 122 large county economies—in counties with more than 500,000 residents—delivered around 58 percent of the county economies’ output (GDP) growth and a similar share of the added jobs over the recovery. Even though the recession hit these county economies the hardest, they showed the fastest rates of recovery in terms of economic output (GDP), jobs, and unemployment.
  • Employment in medium-sized county economies was more stable during the recession, but had a mixed record in 2013.  About half of medium-sized county economies—in counties with populations between 50,000 and 500,000 residents—had shorter and/or shallower job recessions than the national average, more than any other group of county economies. The majority of medium-sized county economies registered job growth in 2013, but employment remained the same or declined in 23 percent of the mid-sized group.
  • By 2013, the recovery in small county economies covered the entire scale of potential outcomes. Twenty-seven (27) small county economies—in counties with less than 50,000 residents—had no recession or fully recovered across all four indicators by 2013, the most among all groups of county economies. One small county economy managed to escape the latest U.S. recession altogether. The housing market downturn was mild in small county economies, with more than half not going through home price declines or already returned to pre-recession home price levels by 2013. Twenty-eight (28) percent of small county economies were still in recession or on the path to recovery in terms of economic output (GDP), employment, the unemployment rate and home prices.

    Interactive Map with Individual County Profiles

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          Click above for an interactive map and individual county profiles.

The County Tracker offers a reminder that the U.S. economy happens on the ground, in the 3,069 county economies that provide the basis for county governments.  As fiscal tightening continues to limit the scope of state and federal investment, it is becoming imperative for states and the federal government to work with counties to maintain the fundamentals of U.S. economy — county economies.