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Western Counties and the Recession

The Familiar Boom and Bust Cycle?


Our full report, “The Recession and the New Economy of the West” (1.5M PDF), analyzed all 413 counties in the 11 contiguous western states. We focused on the factors contributing to growth in the 1990s and 2000s, and why some local economies performed better than others during the recent recession.

The journal Growth and Change published this study in their September 2012 issue. It was summarized in our Op-Ed, “West’s most diverse economies weather recession best”, in the Billings Gazette and other newspapers.

These are some of our findings:


Lesson 1: The faster a county’s population grew from 2000 to 2007, on average, the faster the area tended to lose jobs during the recession.
Map: Western Counties Unemployment Rate 2007-2009

Lesson 2: Counties that were more timber dependent tended to lose jobs at a faster rate during the recession.
Scatter plot: Western Counties- Timber JobsMap: Western Counties- Timber Jobs 2007-2009
Lesson 3: On average, counties with higher education rates (the percent of adults with a college degree) experienced lower rates of job loss.
Scatter plot: Western Counties- College Degrees 2007-2009Map: Western Counties- College Degrees 2007-2009
Lesson 4: Higher government employment was also associated with lower rates of job loss.
Map: Western Counties- Government Jobs 2007-2009

Government employment was found to be beneficial in that, after controlling for pre-recession unemployment and population levels, higher government employment, including military, federal, state and local government, was associated with lower rates of job loss.

The results of this study underscore important tenets of economic development in a modern economy:

  1. The importance of education in the emerging global economy,
  2. The stabilizing effect of government employment during economic contraction, and
  3. The dangers of over-reliance on single sectors, in particular those that fluctuate with commodity markets, such as the timber industry.

The full report, “The Recession and the New Economy of the West” (1.5M PDF), contains extensive statistics and sources.

For more information, contact:
Ray Rasker, Ph.D. at 406.570.7044 or [email]