December 4, 2008

All Recessions are Not Created Equal

In an announcement that was of little surprise to most of us, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) finally declared that the United States has been in a recession since December 2007. What may not be quite as well known is that not every state is necessarily undergoing an economic recession at any given time. I thought it might be interesting to see which states are doing well despite the recession and which states are suffering the most.

To do my analysis, I downloaded the historical data spreadsheet (Excel file) of the State Coincident Indexes, which is published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. This is a long-running series of indexes that has been published since 1979. What the coincident indexes do is:

...combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average).

Based on this index number, individual state economies can be compared against each other and the nation as a whole to see how well the state is doing. The Philadelphia Fed also create month-by-month color-coded maps so that one can see at a glance each state's performance. Below is the most recent map available, from October 2008. (You can find all of the previously published maps since January 2005 here.)

Looking at the data since December 2007, when the recession officially started, what we find is that fourteen states have actually had economic growth as a percentage change over the past eleven months. Thirty-five states have had a contracting economy while one state (Kansas) has had neither a recession nor growth (a 0.0% "change"). (There is no data for the District of Columbia.) The fourteen states, in order of decreasing economic performance, are: Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Virginia, New York, West Virginia, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Nebraska, Massachusetts, and California. What's surprising to me is that California is in this list as they currently have the third highest unemployment rate in the country.

On the other side, the bottom ten states since last December are Delaware (41st), Arizona, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Michigan, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon (50th). All of these states have had their index drop by at least 2.2% since December and, in the cases of the latter four, by over 4.0%. (Oregon's index has dropped by a whopping 6.1%.)

Of course these index numbers can change significantly from month to month. Both Oregon and Nevada have seen their index numbers drop by double digits within the eleven-month span (and not for the better). However, while things may look gloomy for some individual states, the economy may become better for them within a short period of time while the rest of the country labors under the current recession.

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