Op-Ed by Ray Rasker, Headwaters Economics— As the West boomed, the role of commodity production in the overall economy shrank. From 1990 to 2008, farming, ranching, forestry, lumber and wood products manufacturing, hard rock mining and fossil fuel development cumulatively contributed less than 3 percent of all new jobs across the West.
In 2008, these sectors combined constituted roughly 7 percent of all jobs in the rural West, and 3 percent in the West as a whole.
Within this economic context, our research sought to explain differences in county economic performance. Specifically, we examined factors such as population growth, the timber industry, education rates, government jobs, and the change in county unemployment rates from November 2007 (just before the recession officially started) to November 2009.
We documented a relationship between the size of the boom and the size of the bust. The faster an area’s population grew from 2000 to 2007, on average, the faster the area tended to lose jobs during the recession.
Similarly, those counties doing poorly at the start of the recession were more likely to continue to do poorly and lose jobs at a relatively faster rate.
Second, counties that were more timber dependent lost jobs at a faster rate during the recession. As in the past, specialization in resource extraction left counties vulnerable to sudden changes in commodity prices and in this case the housing market’s decline.
Third, a county’s education rate (the percent of adults with a college degree) was positively associated with lower rates of job loss. This finding is consistent with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projection that future jobs expected to be in highest demand will require a college degree.…