The Economic ‘Recovery’ Is Leaving More Than 50 Million Americans Behind
For more than half of American communities, the economic “recovery” that has created millions of jobs and pushed GDP growth above 4% during Q2 never happened. Indeed, while urban centers like New York City have created millions of jobs, a study recently highlighted by Axios showed that economic conditions in half of the zip codes in the US have actually worsened since the recovery began.
Among other findings, the Distressed Communities Index highlighted the fact that more than 50 million Americans live in distressed communities, while more than 80 million live in prosperous communities.
The 2017 DCI finds that 52.3 million Americans live in economically distressed communities—the one-fifth of zip codes that score worst on the DCI. That represents one in six Americans, or 17 percent of the U.S. population.
By comparison, 84.8 million Americans live in prosperous communities—the one-fifth of zip codes that score best on the DCI. These top-performing zip codes contain 27 percent of the country’s population, a far greater share than any other tier.
Underlying indicators of well-being vary drastically across the different tiers of U.S. communities.
As a map of the distribution of these communities shows, they’re disbursed across all regions of the US, with the greatest concentration of distressed communities in the southeastern US. Meanwhile, the northeastern US had the lowest concentration. Indeed, more than half of the US’s distressed population residents in the southern US.
One of the starkest differences between prosperous and distressed communities is the uneven level of economic growth.
According to Labor Department data, 10 million jobs were created in the US between 2011 and 2015, with roughly 85% of these created in prosperous zip codes. Meanwhile, roughly half of American communities have seen zero jobs growth since the crisis. Only two out of every five distressed zip codes recorded growth in employment: the rest saw the number of jobs decline as companies migrated toward more populous areas.
Because of this phenomenon, more than half of distressed zip codes (54%) had fewer jobs and business in 2015 than they did in 2000.
The growth gap between prosperous and distressed zip codes may be the starkest feature of the index because of what it implies about their radically different trajectories.
Over the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, the country added 10.7 million jobs and 310,000 business establishments. Yet that growth was concentrated in the top echelon of U.S. places. An impressive 85 percent of prosperous zip codes saw rising numbers of business establishments and 88 percent registered job growth.
Outside of the upper echelon, however, growth rapidly becomes less pervasive. Only about two out of every five distressed zip codes registered job growth from 2011 to 2015 and only one in five added business establishments.
Unsurprisingly given these patterns, prosperous zip codes dominated the recovery. They contained 29 percent of the nation’s jobs in 2011 but welcomed 52 percent of the new jobs created over the following five years.
Reflecting the disparity in high paying jobs, nearly three out of every five adults in distressed zip codes have no education beyond high school, and only one in seven residents in these struggling communities has completed a four-year degree.
Meanwhile, more prosperous communities harbor the lions share of advanced-degree holders. They also are healthier, with distressed counties registering roughly 40% more deaths.
Prosperous communities, on the other hand, are home to a whopping 45 percent of the country’s advanced degree holders and 41 percent of all Americans with a bachelor’s degree. Tellingly, advanced degree holders are more prevalent in prosperous zip codes than college graduates are in distressed ones.
Massive disparities in health outcomes parallel the nation’s economic imbalances. The inhabitants of more prosperous places tend to be healthier than their neighbors in less advantaged communities, where struggles to find work or pay the bills exact heavy physical and psychological tolls.
Americans in prosperous counties live five years longer than their peers in distressed counties on average.
In a corollary, in 2014 the average distressed county registered over 1,000 deaths for every 100,000 residents—38 percent more than the average prosperous county. Among specific causes, mortality from mental and substance abuse disorders is 64 percent higher in distressed counties than in prosperous ones. Neonatal mortality rates—those for infants before birth—are 86 percent higher in the average distressed county.
Americans in prosperous areas survive, on average, roughly five years longer than their peers in distressed areas. Meanwhile, mortality from mental and substance abuse disorders is 64 percent higher in distressed counties than in prosperous ones. So next time you hear Americans grumbling about the Obama-era economy, remember: For a significant portion of the American public, economic conditions have gotten worse, not better.