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The uneven recovery

Rochester Business Journal
January 17, 2014

The U.S. economy has been expanding for four years. More than two years ago, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product in this country surpassed its pre-recession peak.

Why, then, do so many people think the economy still has not recovered? Because for a lot of them, it has not.

In aggregate data, the picture is quite bright. But for individuals, the local economy is much more relevant—and many communities continue to struggle.

A new report from the National Association of Counties makes this point and delivers data to back it up. According to the group’s researchers, roughly half of the nation’s 3,069 county economies still have not returned to their pre-recession economic output.

The study examined four economic indicators: GDP, number of jobs, unemployment rate and home price. The numbers varied widely, with geography and county size playing significant roles. Counties in the South have fared the best; “big” counties—those with more than 500,000 residents—tended to be hit hardest but also have the fastest rates of recovery.

County-by-county data in the Rochester region show the type of variation found elsewhere. In Monroe County, the annualized growth rate of real economic output from 1990 to the pre-recession peak was 2 percent. During the recession, it fell to minus 2.1 percent; the annualized rate during the recovery has been 1.1 percent.

Contrast those numbers with Ontario County, where the long-term growth rate was 3.1 percent, the recession average dropped to minus 0.9 and the recovery has seen a 2.6 percent rate. In Orleans County, output during the recovery has averaged 3.4 percent growth—nearly identical to the 3.5 percent annualized rate from 1990 to the pre-recession peak.

In 2012-13, the region’s output growth rates ranged from minus 2.8 percent in Livingston County to 5.4 percent in Orleans County.

The uneven recovery here and in other parts of the country is not reason to doubt the economic progress of the last few years. And, of course, even in a booming economy, growth is never uniform.

Nevertheless, the sizable number of counties still lagging their pre-recession growth rates makes clear how much work remains to be done to solidify the recovery.

1/17/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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