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Economic geography

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama told Americans their country “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” He cited the more than 14 million new jobs created over the past six years and an unemployment rate cut in half to 5 percent.

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” he added.

It’s hard to argue with the president’s claim—the U.S. economy clearly is continuing to grow. 

Yet those who struggle to see the recovery are not simply ignorant of the facts. As a new report shows, how things are going depends on where you live.

“County Economies 2015: Opportunities and Challenges,” released this week by the National Association of Counties, reveals that despite an expansion that gained momentum last year and looks very good in aggregate data, most counties nationwide have not recovered to pre-recession levels on jobs and unemployment.

The researchers examined annual changes in GDP, number of jobs, unemployment rate and home prices. As in previous years, the new numbers range widely and are shaped by geography and county size.

Overall, 55 percent of counties have surpassed pre-recession levels in economic output. By contrast, 28 percent have done so in terms of jobs. And only 7 percent of county economies have recovered on all four indicators.

In the Rochester area, Monroe County has recovered on one indicator: home prices. The same is true of Orleans County. Two other counties—Genesee and Wyoming—also have recovered on a single indicator, but a different one: GDP. Ontario and Wayne counties have bounced back on both home prices and GDP, but not jobs or unemployment rate.

Addressing the uneven economic recovery, Mr. Obama cited factors such as automation and global competition. Again, true enough.

But explanations don’t help those trying to find a job. Until growth spreads throughout most of the country, the strength of the U.S. economy will remain hard for many people to grasp.

1/15/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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