Real gross domestic product grew at a tepid 1.69% pace in the U.S. from 2017 to 2020, thanks to a contraction of 3.4% in 2020 — the worst in the U.S. since the end of World War II. COVID-19-related lockdowns and public health measures sent the country spiraling into a three-month economic recession that year.
But that macroeconomic figure does not reveal local economic conditions, which can vary greatly. Job losses often accompany a shrinking economy, and state government revenue from taxes decline. This can result in deficits, growing debt, and cuts to public services like school education, road maintenance, and financial assistance to low-income households. (Slightly broader, here are the states with the best and worst economies.)
To determine the fastest shrinking local economy in every state, 24/7 Wall St. calculated the change in real gross domestic product from 2017 to 2020 for every U.S. county or county equivalent with data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. GDP figures are chained to 2012 dollars. Other data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.
The fastest-shrinking local economies in every state are home to about 2.5 million residents, or about 0.75% of the U.S. population. The median GDP contraction was about 20%, ranging from -0.4% to over -50%. The median population of these local economies is 19,411 people, with communities as small as a few hundred. But several counties are considerably larger, led by New Castle County, Delaware, home to more than half-million residents.
New Castle may be the largest of the fastest-shrinking local economies in every state, but its GDP only contracted by a slight 0.4%. By comparison, the nearly 166,000 people living in Maui and Kalawao, Hawaii, experienced a debilitating 15% economic contraction, owing mostly to the hit Hawaii took to its crucial tourism sector in 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economy of Adams County, Ohio, (population 27,776) took the biggest economic hit, with its GDP cut in half from 2017 to 2020. But unlike Maui, which recorded a pandemic-related hit in 2020, Adams County has been declining for some time, with a notable 36% GDP drop in 2018 and another 22% decline in 2019. The county’s GDP in 2020 actually climbed slightly. (Find out if Adams is the worst county to live in.)
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