Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Not News: Only 1.1% of Americans Live in Unemployment Rate-Recovering Counties

Tom Blumer

This post follows up on Friday morning's entry (at BizzyBlog; at NewsBusters) showing that "Fewer Than 0.5% of Americans Live in Fully Recovered Counties." This is the kind of news which would be front and center with the nation's establishment press if such a report came out during a Republican or conservative presidential administration. With Team Obama in place, NACo's work has been virtually ignored.
Some commenters at the Friday post raised a potentially valid objection to the criteria used by the National Association of Counties to determine "full recovery." NACo's four bases were returns to pre-recession bests in number of jobs, the unemployment rate, GDP, and home prices. Objectors wanted to completely discount the group's work based on its inclusion of home prices, arguing that pre-bubble home prices were artificially high, and that a failure to return to those levels was not a valid indicator of economic malaise. If all three other metrics were impressive, they would have had a point. But they weren't. This post will look at the unemployment rate metric, because that will be the only one needed to show that they still don't have a point.
Including the dicey home-price metric, as the Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog and hardly anyone else reported, NACo found that only 65 of the nation's 3,000-plus counties fully recovered to pre-recession peak levels.
But NACo also found that "95 percent of counties have not recovered on unemployment rates." So only 5 percent, or 150, counties have returned to the lowest pre-recession unemployment rate (obviously including the original 65).
This morning, the folks at NACo were kind enough to send me the complete list of the 150 unemployment rate-recovering counties. I went to Census data to get the 2013 populations of the 85 additional counties. As is the case with the original 65, with one exception (Kent County, Michigan, with a population of 621,700), they are very sparsely populated. Their average population, excluding Kent, is less than 18,000 — even lower than the 65 fully recovering counties, which average over 21,000.
States represented in those 150 counties were as follows: AK-6, CO-2, IA-4, KS-20, MI-2, MN-21, MO-1, MT-3, ND-37, NE-1, NV-1, OH-5, SC-11, SD-2, TX-32, VT-1, WI-1. Slim pickings indeed.
Even slimmer, once population is considered:
So only 1.1 percent of Americans live in counties where the average 2014 unemployment rate had returned to or bettered their previous pre-recession bests. That compares to 0.44 percent of counties which achieved full recovery using all of NACo's metrics. Accommodating objectors' complaints didn't even add another 0.7 percent of the U.S. population. Big freakin' whoop.
The only saving grace for the naysayers is that NACo chose to use average annual instead of year-end unemployment rates as their benchmark. Because the seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent to 5.6 percent during 2014, most counties probably saw year-end individual rates a half-point or more lower than their calendar-year average. Certainly a year-end snapshot would have included more unemployment rate-recovering counties in NACo's list. But it's a long, long climb up from just 5 percent of counties and barely 1 percent of the population to something resembling a general recovery.
Even getting to 25 percent of counties and 20 percent of the population wouldn't (and shouldn't) impress anyone — which is why the economy-praising press will continue to ignore NACo's county-level report. How anyone call this "recovery," over 5-1/2 years after the recession officially ended, anything but utterly miserable remains a complete mystery.
Cross-posteed at BizzyBlog.com.


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