Which Areas in America Are Worse Off Since 2016?

Five percent of Americans live in counties where two of three key economic measures were worse in 2019 than 2016.

Comments: 103

  1. Thanks, very informative. It appears to me that the depressed counties in addition to being affected by declining manufacturing, are also affected by declining agricultural incomes. In my own state of Virginia, most declining counties are in Appalachia and the southside area of lost textile mills and furniture manufacturers. A follow up question would be: are the depressed counties seeing population declines? It would seem logical that people will move out of depressed counties and into counties that offer better jobs.

  2. @john Complicating the data is people from metro area retiring to central and not so rural outlaying counties. The climate is mild, costs are lower, and health care is excellent. Consider adding a variable, >65, or mean age.

  3. @john Considering many families are unable to cover a $400 emergency spending, the prospects of spending thousands to sell the house then moving are not on their radar.

  4. @john Do you have any idea how much it costs to move, whether home owner or renter? Hiring movers or renting a truck and hiring day laborers. Cost of selling home. For renters, how do you get a lease when you've moved somewhere to look for a job? Where do you come up first and last month's rent and security deposit? If you are already living on the edge, you're not in a position to move away from your social network to maybe get a job somewhere else.

  5. While these stats are helpful you forgot the biggest point. Many times when a country is "well off", it the calm before the storm. In fact the better off it is, usually the worse off it will usually get. The country was roaring in the 1920 and the 2000 naughts before the last two major crashes came.

  6. Given that Trump will do anything to give the appearance of "good numbers" why would any reasonable person believe the economic numbers coming from Trump world. For example, the unemployment number is so easy to jigger it's laughable. Trump, like his father, cooked all books and performance numbers to make their own reality and got away with for decades. So it goes.

  7. @old soldier So you think maybe Nebraskians are lying to make themselves look worse? or is Utah maybe more 'impoverished' than we think? They lie on the Census and/or lie to the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

  8. @pat smith - My comment was directed at those who aggregate data at the national level. Also, I recall that the unemployment number was originally designed to shine the best light on the politicians who publish it. In addition, 40% of the country would say and do anything to make Trump look good, thus confirming their vote for the stable genius.

  9. It is always surprising to see that Fairfield, CT is worse off, like so many other rural and manufacturing counties, but Greenwich is not Fairfield. Bridgeport is part of Fairfield and the towns of New Canaan and Darien are shrinking as Wall Street shrinks. Greenwich is going to have more problems as more and more mansions hit the market. It's a blue county, but those other red counties will probably still vote for Trump; they like the racism.

  10. @Meighan Corbett Greenwich and New Canaan are taking a hit. I own real estate there. Time to dump it.

  11. Couldn’t help noticing the YUGE blocks of territory comprising the aboriginal people of this great nation...

  12. @Steve Good eye. I was struck by the big streak of red covering the Inuit in Alaska, victims of global warming.

  13. I thought the same as well,those locations in the Dakotas ,Nebraska and Montana are all heavily Native American. Also note the Delta area of the Lower South. my birthplace county in Michigan is red too. And i am not surprised.

  14. It's (unintentionally?) ironic that the map used the color red to show the worsening counties, because red stands for the Republican party and Trump. What's even more ironic is that the people who live in these counties will continue to vote red, even though it's against their economic interests to do so.

  15. @Paul-A Culture war But this too they will lose

  16. @Paul-A Yep. Ignorance is expensive.

  17. @Paul-A I happen to live in one of those counties, and it is likely the most liberal in the state.

  18. NYT, it would be great to see the underlying data. Can you give us a link to it?

  19. How can we get a list of the counties that are worse off?

  20. I wonder how this map will change as the impact of the corona virus kicks in. The county where I live depends heavily on tourism. The dairy industry, which used to be the backbone of the economy, is defunct. It is not red on this map. I'm wondering what is a realistic prognosis for the length of time we can expect the need for social distancing to persist. If it goes into the summer, my home county will be devastated. On the plus side, if there is one, a large portion of our population is older and retired. Many of us have pensions, which give us some security. Will the collapse of the stock market threaten that security?

  21. @Betsy S I doubt if pensions can be considered very secure if the Fed pumps so much money into the economy that the value of those pension dollars are substantially reduced.

  22. @Hill I don't follow your reasoning. During a demand-side slump like the last one and the next, overall inflation is nearly impossible, as demonstrated by its complete absence for the past 40 years except for housing education and healthcare. Also, pensions are indexed, so to whatever extent there is inflation, we're covered. The real problem is that fewer retirees will have pensions: those depending on stock market investments will find themselves members of the precariat if they're not already. Eventually (and probably sooner than you think), 1 of 2 things will happen: We will elect a government that will expand Social Security and Medicare to provide a survivable minimum for all Americans, funding it by removing the cap on the payroll tax and extending it to all income. Or hungry people will get the food they need by other means. If 5% of the population is homeless, they can scrounge from dumpsters and be prevented from shoplifting. If 30% is, the picture changes.

  23. @Dan Coleman Yes,Dan, you are correct in the short term. However, I believe that eventually, after, increasing stock prices for a couple of years, that the money will come out of the market and will be used to compete for goods and services leading to inflation. While pensions may be adjusted to the cost of living, some of those pensions, such as for MA state retirees, only adjust for the first $13,000 of the total pension

  24. Can you compare this county map with the counties that voted for Trump in 2016?

  25. Folks in the less fortunate areas can take solace that our President is working tirelessly to help the rest of us get there too...

  26. @John Not only is our President working tirelessly to help us become less fortunate, his bungling of the COVID-19 virus will actually kill many Americans since he continued to listen to Jared Kushner who said the virus was a hoax made up by the media.

  27. Sad, but true

  28. @John bankrupcy # 7 here we come. let's see budget shortfall every year about a trillion, + or - a few billion. now let' throw another near trillion into it so that's 2 trillion this year to get the guy reelected

  29. Please do this analysis again in about 90 days.

  30. @Brad G there's not enough red ink in this country for that. better start ordering now from China

  31. Whatever improvements took place were kick started by the Keynesian measures first undertaken by Obama It is fascinating that the gop only finds keynsisn measures work when they propose them Bunch of self serving con men

  32. "Worse-off counties voted Trump-over-Clinton in 2016 by an average margin of 21 percentage points. The couple of dozen counties that are worse off on all three measures voted for Trump by an average margin of 47 percentage points." In other words, these counties bought in big to Trump's rhetoric (MAGA) and got ... less than nothing for it. Hey, hey, folks wake up. He's trying to con you again for 2020. As the song says, don't be fooled again.

  33. I agree with you. The folks on those counties probably don’t read the NYT. THE trump channels don’t report this info.

  34. Those worse off counties are also counties with lower educational levels. Less educated people are less able to distinguish between facts and lies that make them feel good. That's a strong reason why the voted for you know who.

  35. I live in one of the red areas on the map and my company employs approximately 100 people. Finding workers to fill open positions is as difficult as it has ever been. The wages we pay have risen steadily since 2016 with our lowest earners wages going up faster than higher earners. Unemployment is virtually zero. I think this map is based on faulty data.

  36. @R Bergstrom That most of the workers you hire are from other states -- because there are jobs there, where winter starts in the Fall and ends in June -- doesn't improve the lives of North Dakota residents except in keeping those in the service and hospitality industries working for drudge wages. You may be doing well financially, but you're probably closer to that pesky top 10% -- the rest can't reach: EVER.

  37. @R Bergstrom A lot of people don't want to live in a place as cold as North Dakota!

  38. I'd like to see the map showing which many counties are *better* now than in 2016. But such a map might be too painful for Mr. Kolko to show.

  39. In all fairness, if we claim that 5% of the population is worse off now than in 2016, couldn't we state that 95% of the population is at least as well off as in 2016, if not better?

  40. @Yukon Cat ...It would be even more interesting to compare the county's rate of economic growth the last three years of Obama with the rate of economic growth for the first three years of Trump. For a fair answer you need to consider the changes in momentum.

  41. @W.A. Spitzer And the momentum has now reversed thanks to the Virus! The one thing that will be increasing faster than ever is the deficit! At least we are saving some money now that Trump is not running to Mar-a-Lago on our dime every weekend!

  42. " lowest-wage industries and workers seeing the biggest wage gains" Oy! As a percentage, maybe. But in terms of real dollars, a guy making $10 an hour goes to $11 with a 10% raise. He grosses $2080 more annually. A guy making $100,000 goes to $105,000 with a "smaller" 5% raise. He makes a little more than $2.40 an hour more.

  43. Only matters after tax.... otherwise it’s apples and oranges

  44. @Frank Agree,100%! Adding to that, just because a county is as bad off in 2020 as in 2016 is no cause for celebration! Some sort of metric of justice, inequality, poverty, hunger, etc. needs to be added. Not just whether there was some gain, or loss, but how far behind in absolute terms are people; how distant are they from the American Dream; from living a healthy, meaningful, well paid life!

  45. Update this article with who these people in these counties are already voting for in the Democratic primary, and who polling says they plan on voting for in November. This will offer a complete picture on if these people have learned their lesson or not voting for Trump.

  46. How much of this has to do with Trump's tariffs and ICE raids ? Farm bankruptcies are up 20%, many low wage workers are undocumented, it is hard to replace them. Most undocumented workers are in hiding or being hunted and jailed by ICE. Trying to find Americans to work the fields, in slaughterhouses etc. is very difficult.

  47. Hey, what about the territories? They're part of the US too, and it would be nice to see them included in all of the great data maps that the NYT publishes.

  48. ANOMALY! One county in MA less well off, MY county! In a very blue state. In 2016 primaries- EVERY town went for Bernie Sanders. The local paper endorsed Bernie in the Dem primary. (The only paper in the country?- well, maybe in VT). The county of course went for Hilary in the general- with many 3rd part voters. Oh- and we went for Bernie by a majority this time around too. A poor county by many standards. Also well loved by many who live here...

  49. @Mattie In 1997 you even closed down your county government! You are also the least populated county.

  50. Articles like this state that wages have increased since 2016 for the lowest income workers, implying that the Trump administration deserves some credit for this. However, I never seem to see reference to increases in the minimum wage, put in place by blue state legislatures and city councils, and sometimes by enlightened companies. How much of that wage increase is attributable to these changes rather than any economic measures promoted (or not) by the Federal government?

  51. @Larry At lower wages, the proportion of people working somewhat or entirely "off the books" is much higher. We may not have great data from a single source to measure their average earning power.

  52. We are all worse off no matter how you measure it.

  53. They voted for their own misery. They chose Trump.

  54. "While the most struggling places in America tended to vote for Mr. Trump, so did a disproportionate share of places with the fastest job growth since 2016." It will be interesting to see if there's an anti-Trump shift in these declining counties.

  55. You might want to show this same chart compared to the time just before Reagan. Perhaps also in a year to year trend comparison, and then contrast that with the growth of wealth in the top 1%.

  56. Counties with two and three measures going in the wrong direction also share the affliction of poor educational outcomes; dropouts, graduation rates, reading and mathematics proficiency, access for students with special needs, and teacher qualification levels, just to name a few. The primary driver of these characteristics is inadequacy of resources. These consequential education data point inexorably toward catastrophic levels of juvenile incarcertion, child and spousal abuse, felony arrests, days in criminal custody, probation, and or sentencing. Public health outcomes include greater levels of poor nutrition, smoking, substance abuse, poor dental care, obesity, and chronic illness. That so many of these counties could favor Trump in 2020 is at once astonishing and disturbing. Perhaps the beatings will continue until morale improves.

  57. Jed Kolko, I'd like to remind you of a very informative article in this paper on Sept. 29, 2018 by Neil Irwin titled, "The Invisible Recession of 2016". It expands on your comments, "By and large, these recent years were a continuation of previous trends. Compared with the rest of the country, the places worse off in 2019 than in 2016 were more than four times as likely to have also been worse off in 2016 versus 2012." That makes it doubly remarkable that so many of the people around me in these counties continue to support trump. I DON'T! As I live in this area that is referenced, it amazes me that we are now worse off than we were then AND we were already worse off then than EVERYBODY ELSE!!! Neil Irwin said, "Second, the mini-recession might well have affected some political attitudes during the 2016 election. While the economy was in pretty good shape for people in large cities on the coasts, 2016 was rough for a lot of people in local economies heavily reliant on drilling, mining, farming or making the machines that support those industries. A poll in October 2016 by an agriculture trade publication, Agri-Pulse, found that 86 percent of farmers were dissatisfied with the way things were going in the United States." We'll see if those same farmers and rancher vote their dissatisfaction this time too . . .

  58. "While the most struggling places in America tended to vote for Mr. Trump, so did a disproportionate share of places with the fastest job growth since 2016." This is a mathematically insensitive statement, Suppose county A had 95% employment in 2016 and 2019 while county B has 60% employment in 2016 and 72% in 2019. County A had 0% job growth while county B had 20% job growth. Where would you rather live? It is quite possible (likely?) that red counties have been economically poor for a long time so it is easier for them to get better even if "better" is still bad.

  59. Please show us the same map, color coding ALL counties that have even ONE of these factors! Any of the three mean that people are being left behind. You've hidden data and counties under stress by grouping 0 and 1. Even better, would be to color code the map by *degree* of stress — in other words, flag counties where wages have been, slightly up, and only somewhat up — color code it by the *percentage* of improvement or decline. That could be incredibly revealing and would illustrate well who's being left behind or not sharing as much in any improvement! Instead of a map that mostly looks fine; it would show that much of the country is struggling — and will be even more in the coming months!

  60. You state that the two most populous worse-off counties are Fairfield and Lucas. These are both counties that are fairly densely populated, with urban centers (Toledo, Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford) and lots of 'creative class' jobs, especially Fairfield County. Neither can be classified as predominantly agricultural. You then go on to generalize for the rest of the article without the slightest explanation about why the two biggest counties in your sample are outliers. What goes?

  61. @John Abdenour Check real estate prices in Greenwich and New Canaan, not good.

  62. Did this study correct for how these counties would have faired with another administration? I am certainly not a Trump fan, but these comparisons can be misleading.

  63. Thank, Jed, for this article. Needed is a map showing BOTH (a) Worse-off-than-in 2016, and (b) Voted-for-Trump. If it's too difficult to show this by counties, then do it in a state-level map.

  64. Since 2016, I have seen the cost of housing triple. I have also seen the cost of food triple, gas cost increase more than $1, the quality of healthcare deteriorate and the availability of doctors diminish. I have watched the cost of my insurance premiums and utilities triple. I have also watched my retirement/pension decrease and my retirement age pushed back another few years. The economic health of the country has been measured by the stock market and unemployment rates, but long term unemployment and under-employment is not part of those stats. Trump's trickle down economic plan didn't work for Reagan in the 80s, it led to a recession, and basing the health of the economy on the stock market profits is false information and security. Sure...Amazon is doing well, but how many brick and mortar stores closes since 2016? What was the price of tuition in 2016 and what is it in 2020? What is the growth? What is the national debt? How is trade - the moving of goods around the globe? The entire country and the planet is far worse in 2020. That has nothing to do with the c-virus, it has to do with Trump's wretched policies and the status quo.

  65. What I got from this article: trump policies hurt people but they also helped people.

  66. I hope B & B (Bernie and Biden) have seen this chart and have bee campaigning vigorously in these areas.

  67. @HopeFul? That wouldn’t help. Nothing would.

  68. Not surprising that some of the worst hit countries supported Trump by the biggest percentages. When you're already on the ropes, the snake oil salesmen are always speeding to the scene. They offer magic cures, people to blame and economic miracles, all while preying on the people they promise to help. Trump is the biggest snake oil salesman in memory. Even Bernie Madoff and Jim Bakker pale in comparison.

  69. The timing of this is interesting. Will voters care about tiny aggregate shifts in economic data, or about a pandemic that kept they quarantined at home and ground activity to a halt? Most people do not understand economic data in great detail. They do understand being "penny wise and pound foolish" and that relying on data is less valuable when the world is changing rapidly. They also understand that we are biological and moral creatures before we are financial ones. Odds are that when it comes time to vote, almost all of these arbitrarily-aggregated numbers will be widely ignored.

  70. @Alan They should care, especially if their area is affected. We already know from a previous article that the Republican areas of America are worse off, and it is because they do not support people who support them.

  71. Obviously, this leaves out that even within counties there were winners and losers. Income inequality increased under Trump, at least 7 million have lost their health insurance, and the homeless population continues to rise. It makes sense that urban centers gained overall, particularly ones with large industries, big banks and investment firms that would have benefited from Trump's tax cuts, but this doesn't really say too much about the overall economic health of those regions.

  72. Not sure of the value of this survey. The only Oregon county on the map with color is Wheeler County. It has the lowest population and is considered the poorest county in our state. And always has been. Hard to imagine what "worse off" looks like.

  73. But the question is, is there a statistical relation between counties that are worse off and counties that voted for Trump. This could be answered easily by my college level ecoometrics class. If the answer is yes, it indicates that the pattern is not random!

  74. In 2016 Clinton carried 472 counties which produced approximately 64% of America’s economic activity (GDP) in 2015. Trump carried 2584 counties which produced approximately 36% percent of America’s GDP in 2015. From the WSJ: In 2018 Republican House districts economic output per district was $B32.6, down from $B33.3 in 2008. In 2018 Democratic House districts economic output per district was $B49, up from $B35.7 in 2008. In 2018 Democratic House districts had 71% of American digital and professional jobs.

  75. @HapinOregon, One more reason to do away with the Electoral College.

  76. @HapinOregon Gee, you think maybe the future lies in digital and green jobs, and NOT in coal? Who'da thunk?

  77. It would help if one could enlarge the map.

  78. @Jenni I did in my computer. Just click Command +

  79. Maybe because Democrats keep pushing for more low-wage workers, especially the undocumented, from south of the border.

  80. @M Except that Trump has tried to and succeeded at stopping the flow of Migrants form South of the Border so then how does what used to happen affect us so much since he has been elected...Sorry your analysis does not make sense. In fact Trump has not helped those low income people, not only Immigrants, he has helped the wealthy. You need only look at who he throws money at to see that.

  81. @M And can you prove that's actually affected these areas? Or is that just twisting logic in order to blame "liberals" for your voting mess, because in fact most of these areas have been dominated by "small government" republicans who have no problem whatsoever with socialism for corporations? A little self-responsibilty goes a long way.

  82. M, if comments were rejected for dishonesty this one would never have made it far enough to reply to. The stagnation and decline of working class wages began under the republican saint Ronnie Reagan and continues to this day under Donald (cheat your employees, contractors and employ undocumented workers throughout your business) Trump. The republicans and their paymasters are anti union, anti worker and corrupt. You’re either ignorant of who’s at fault or trolling for Trump.

  83. this is a terrible and utterly incomplete measure for something labelling itself broadly "worse off" or "better off"

  84. A good time to drag this one out: “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” - H.L. Mencken, 1926

  85. Why pick 2016 as the starting place? Let’s look at 2007 or 2008. I bet the numbers are even worse for low income folk. The “economy” has only recovered for the well off and the rich, the rest have been forgotten and not just by the orange fool king (trump).

  86. @Loring Vogel The reason 2016 was picked is they are showing how Trump has not helped people, but made it worse for them. Even as he robs all of us by robbing the government to pay Paul, his stolen largesse has not helped many Americans. But sadly many of them do not understand what is happening around them.

  87. @Loring Vogel Change in data since 1979 and 1999 would be even more interesting.

  88. The map provides of false sense of betterment. For example, there are many large areas in California and other states that where people suffered economically from loss of homes because of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. Sure those areas may have high employment to rebuild what was lost, but it's really just to restore what folks lost.

  89. Drill a little deeper and you will find that the decline in the oil business took down places in North Dakota, Texas, NM, OK, Colorado, Alaska, LA, etc. Declines in the ag industry took down places in WA, and all across the heartland. The decline of the coal industry took down a lot of places in WV, PA, WY. I'm sure Biden or Sanders will bring that back. Connecticut, of course, is just Connecticut.

  90. So 95% of Americans live in counties that IMPROVED (or stayed the same) based on these economic measures? Isn't THIS the story here then? And many of those counties in the less fortunate 5% in this comparison were in federal disaster areas from the floods of 2019 (see FEMA disaster declarations by county).

  91. “Making America Great Again”? Not. It’s no surprise why these areas are worse off: Trump’s ruinous trade policies, which have hurt Midwest farmers and pockets of manufacturing here and there.

  92. “Red America includes places with a wider range of economic conditions...than blue America does.” This is where population density of evangelicals versus that in blue states should have been measured as well. That’s the single greatest factor propelling the success of the Republican Party, wedded to the evangelical voting block since Reagan’s “Big Tent” deal with the Moral Majority. I was raised in an evangelical environment in the ‘70s-early 80s during the drastic decline in social and political influence of evangelicals since their early to mid-century peak in Los Angeles. I knew many families from my baptist school and church, including that of my high school boyfriend, who left for Midwestern and Southern states due to the increasing “godlessness” and “immorality” of LA. My own parents weren’t so bothered by it, probably owing to my father’s family roots in the harsh winters of Chicago, my mother’s Mexican heritage which is warmly embraced here, and their easy-going tolerance of looser social mores. Evangelicals fleeing liberalizing blue states over the last four decades have now concentrated themselves in red states with a sort of apocalyptic, last-stand siege mentality, always voting their values over economics. I myself not only lived in Missouri for seven years but have also driven by car through all 48 states over the years and witnessed the stark divide. A good or bad economy will never matter more than the GOP promise of a return to socio-political relevance.

  93. Most Republicans who’s earnings were between 50-70 thousand per year voted Trump and still might, its the wage earners who make over 70-150 that will reflect on this moment and that should worry every politician.

  94. I was just in Sullivan County, PA very rural with ancient, collapsing homes right up against the road. Barns in disrepair. Cars rusting on the property. And Trump 2020 signs cropping up (along with the occasional Confederate flag) in fields and home windows.

  95. Good premise: those most harmed by President Trump & Republicans are tend to vote against their own interests. Horrible analysis to support the argument. How can someone become a “chief economist” without understanding statistics? * Number of jobs? Splitting two jobs into three or four to avoid paying benefits increases the _number_ of jobs at the expense of economic well-being. Similarly, working multiple part time jobs to equal the income of one full time job leaves one much worse off because of travel time & idle time between shifts. * AVERAGE pay? Get real. The extremes completely skew averages. Just like real estate, MEDIAN is the proper metric. * The Reagan administration rendered the unemployment rate meaningless when they stopped counting those no longer actively looking for work or those stuck with part time work. Labor participation rates (the European model)—particularly if they can distinguish involuntary part time work—give a much more accurate portrayal of employment trends. The proper “pay” metrics would be per capita and household INCOME. To approximate wages, divide income by (hours worked plus commute time). The analysis completely ignored household medical expenses, which have eroded disposable income. What happened to County life expectancy? What were the trends for their support in Congress, governorships & and state houses? How did the same counties fare during the Obama administration? Better analysis will only strengthen the argument!

  96. It would be interesting, and relevant, to super-impose that map with "red / blue" indicators, along with the length of time their politics have been dominated by one or the other.

  97. The sad part is that the Democrats under Biden do not present any real solutions to reverse this trend. The only Dem to promote a viable solution was Andrew Yang with his VAT-funded UBI proposal. Yet, all he received from both sides of the political and media mainstream was, at best, polite lip service; at worst, open derision. Despite verifiable facts, the GOP will continue to manipulate these voter's feelings with disinformation, racism and xenophobia. And why wouldn't they? It has worked for them thus far.

  98. Completely misleading! The only thing that matters is the actual cost of living for all the things most Americans have to pay for: Housing, food, transportation, healthcare, retirement, education, insurance. Add all that up and what you will find is that an increasingly large percentage of Americans are being left behind with a lowering quality of life.

  99. This not a comment on the story. Why didn't TNYT make the map interactive, or provide a link so that residents of these states could see if the highlighted county is one they live in?

  100. @doughboy Easy to do. Just Google a county map for the state you want to check and compare the shape.

  101. They may not have jobs, and those that do may not make much money, but by God they’ve got Trump in the White House, vilifying the immigrants, sneering at the liberals, running the “experts” out of town, and going to the mat, if only rhetorically, for “real Americans” like them. What’s a little deprivation when the BMOC is on your side?

  102. How many of Trump campaign rally red MAGA hat wearing attendees are regular attendees and members or invited guests at Trump Organization golfing, hotel and resort community properties?

  103. Biden or his VP should campaign in every one of these counties, starting with the hardest hit. This is his list.