Fastest Shrinking Local Economies in America

Gross domestic product is a metric often used to compare the sizes of economies as well as how well an economy performs. As the world’s largest economy, the U.S. GDP is over $21 trillion. But the U.S. economy is composed of many counties. County GDP can help assess the vitality of the local economy. While the U.S. economy grew by nearly 22% from 2014 to 2019, about 750 county economies (of over 3,000 nationwide) shrank over that time.

To determine the 50 fastest shrinking local economies nationwide, 24/7 Wall St. calculated the change in real GDP from 2014 to 2019 for every U.S. county or county equivalent with data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The counties listed here experienced the most crippling economic contractions — of between 28% and 51%.

When economies contract, so too does the availability of jobs and potential for local economic mobility. This can lead to population declines over an extended period of time as younger residents leave to pursue greener job pastures. (This is America’s fastest dying industry.)

These U.S. counties with the fastest shrinking local economies are typically small and rural. For example, Mora County, New Mexico, and Martin County, Kentucky, are both home to fewer than 1,000 residents. (Not counties, but these are America’s largest and smallest state economies.)

The fastest shrinking local U.S. economies also include Boone County, West Virginia, a coal industry-dependent community of 22,368 people that has seen a gradual decline in jobs since the Great Recession. There are about 2,200 fewer jobs in Boone than there were at its last peak in July 2008, and it has yet to recover jobs lost to the pandemic-related recession of 2020. Its GDP shrank by nearly 43% from 2014 to 2019.

With a population of 133,195, Tazewell County, Illinois, is one of the more populated counties on this list. It has about 2,300 fewer employed persons today than it had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Like Boone County, Tazewell experienced a gradual reduction of employed people — a trend that began during the Great Recession. Its GDP contracted by nearly half from 2014 to 2019.

Out of the top five most populous U.S. states, only Texas has counties on this list of the fastest shrinking local economies. The Lone Star state is home to nine of these counties, with about 88,000 residents. Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota tie for second place with four counties apiece.

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