Some American cities are facing up to the grim prospect of a "lost decade."

Even though the United States has enjoyed an economic recovery in recent years, it’s still licking its wounds after the recession of the late 2000’s. Some economists predict that job levels and employment won’t correct to a normal rate until almost 2020. But given the nature of corrections and given the fact that some cities bounce back quicker than others, things might not always be the way they seem.

Let’s talk statistics

Before delving into something so heavily disputed, let’s crunch some numbers. The recession that the American economy experienced was caused by a multitude of issues, which (sadly) tend to vary in importance based upon your party affiliation. Nonetheless, from January of 2007 to around June of 2010, approximately ten million people lost work. Factories closed, layoffs were very prevalent and many families and individuals experienced extreme hardships.

Obviously, some cities were hit much harder than others, but at the heart of these hard-hit cities were specialized industries, like in Hickory, North Carolina, saw many of its furniture-producing jobs sent overseas.

Some of the more common cities are places like Flint, Michigan and Canton, Ohio, which used to be hubs of the steel and car industries, respectively. Cities like these were destroyed during the peak of the recession with many of the jobs and manufacturing sent abroad.

America is recovering, but not how you might think

We’ve seen growth throughout the nation since we hit the recession, but it’s important to know why and how we’re seeing that growth instead of just relying on conventional wisdom.

If you asked an average Joe at your college campus why we’re seeing growth, he might say, “Capitalism, dude.” If you asked your sweet grandmother why we’re growing, she might say, “America is recovering like she always does.”

But what if corrections in the job market aren’t as simple as, “America is doing better”? What if the reality behind national employment growth isn’t that the nation is collectively doing better, but that certain parts are doing much better than the status quo?

Take Detroit for example. Detroit isn’t recovering much at all. What used to be a manufacturing powerhouse is now a particularly depressed part of Michigan with a disturbingly high crime rate. Detroit is one of many cities that was hit hard and still has yet to make its way back to competing in the market. This is the result of regionalized recovery.

America’s recovery: Great for some, myth for others

Regionalized recovery is influenced by national growth with respect to the job market. If your mom and dad both worked in Hickory, were laid off, and then found jobs in Houston (a city that did relatively well during the recession), the growth in Houston would rise but Hickory is two workers worse off; this is happening all over the place.

" ... these cities are improving at a faster rate and are attracting workers nationwide, while the economies of the hard-hit cities stagnate."

People are finding jobs in the cities that weathered the recession fairly well and, because of this, these cities are improving at a faster rate and are attracting workers nationwide, while the economies of the hard-hit cities stagnate.

National growth is real, yes. But it’s important to remember that dozens of cities that were hit hardest are losing workers to other cities who weren’t hit as hard, which contributes to the growth itself.

So what does that mean for hard-hit cities?

This could mean many things for hard-hit cities, including a “lost decade” according to many economists. IHS Global Insight predicts that up to thirty seven metropolitan areas won’t correct to a normal level until 2021.

And that’s depressing, damn it! Dozens of cities are being overlooked by the conventional wisdom that states that as long as there is national growth, it’s across the board. The opposite is true; areas that were hit hard by the recession have seen a continuous rate of low employment.

Our take

The recession hit many very hard and hit some even harder, depending upon where they are located. Much national growth and correction with respect to the job market has resulted in workers moving domestically to find different work in areas that survived the recession.

So, when you hear that the nation as a whole is on the rise, you might think twice about the difference between the phrases “as a whole” and “on average.” Just because the group is improving as a whole doesn’t mean that everyone within the group is keeping up.


Posted 04.02.2016 - 04:45 pm EDT