EDITORIAL: National report on counties shows economy hasn’t recovered

During his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared that “the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” He said we’ve “recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations,” that “talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air” and “anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”

As we’ve heard time and time again, however, just because the president says something, it doesn’t make it true. Contrary to his bold proclamation, more than six years since our economy began to turn around, 93 percent of U.S. counties — including Clark County — still haven’t fully recovered from the recession.

The latest County Economies report from the National Association of Counties (NACo) shows that only 7 percent of counties nationwide (214 out of 3,069) had bounced back to pre-recession levels in four key economic areas: total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the economy and home values. Twenty-seven states hadn’t seen a single county fully recover in all four areas, and 16 percent of counties across the nation hadn’t recovered in a single one of them. Clark County falls into that last category.

According to NACo, while economic recovery accelerated in 2015 for a number of large counties — especially in terms of unemployment rates and home prices — most county economies still have not recovered to their pre-recession levels on jobs and unemployment, and their economic output growth was less pronounced. The association says that, since 2009, the recovery “has created an uneven geography of opportunity,” with some counties seeing rising wages and productivity, while others are seeing wages struggling to keep pace with productivity gains.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, a massive drop in oil prices has reversed job creation in the energy-rich center of the country, allowing larger metro areas near the coasts to benefit most from the recovery. This industry shift (and others), as well as slowing population growth, means that some parts of the country might never fully recover from the recession.

NACo calls county economies the “building blocks of regional economies, states and the nation.” The association argues that the “conditions of a county economy can constrain and challenge county governments, residents and businesses, while also providing opportunities.” The current opportunities and challenges in the U.S. economy on the ground, it says, “show the continued need for a strong local-state-federal partnership in securing a strong economy.”

The federal government must support policies that expand economic opportunity. The NACo report clearly shows that the overbearing regulatory state isn’t the answer. President Obama says the economy has recovered. The numbers don’t support that statement.

Who, exactly, is doing the peddling here?

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