January 18, 2016

Update: AP, Which Stopped Tracking County-Level ‘Stress’ 5 Years Ago, Ignores How 93 Percent Still Haven’t Recovered

On Wednesday, Amber Phillips at the Washington Post’s The Fix blog impressively took President Obama to task for his over-the-top bragging about the nation’s mediocre (and likely getting worse) economy. She noted that “the biggest knock on the Obama economy … is that the recovery has been very good for the wealthy and certain sectors and not so much for the middle class and everyone else.” Hear, hear.

Phillips referred to a study released the previous day by the National Association of Counties, an 80 year-old advocacy group. One of NACo’s maps showed that only 7 percent of all counties in the U.S. have fully recovered from the recession. The irony of the county-based results cannot have been lost on the business writers at the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, which began tracking county-level “economic stress” in 2009 — only to abandon the project in 2011 after it became painfully clear that it had turned into an obvious indictment of how poorly the Obama economy was performing.

Phillips’ work at the Post was a rare exception. Relevant searches at the AP and at Google News in general indicate that the wire service and most of the rest of the establishment press have ignored NACo’s most recent damning report.

Two years ago, when NACo released the 2014 version of its report, I quoted what AP had promised to do in 2009:

AP rolls out maps to show economic stress

The Associated Press Economic Stress Index weighs three economic variables – unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcy – to produce a score on a scale of 0-100 that measures how the recession is affecting a county compared to all others.

The scores are then plotted on the interactive Associated Press Economic Stress Maps, which demonstrate at a highly local level how economic conditions have deteriorated since October 2007. They also can be used as a tool to measure the progress of recovery in the coming months, providing a granular view of economic change in the United States.

“The AP Economic Stress Index is a valuable tool for analyzing what got us to this point of the recession,” said Kristin Gazlay, the AP’s managing editor for business news and global training, in a statement. “But, even more importantly, it gives us a way to look at how things change over time and judge whether the economy is actually getting better, including pinpointing precisely where the recovery has its roots.”

The AP failed to identify “where the recovery has its roots,” because the recovery, such as it is, hasn’t fully taken root in the vast majority of U.S. counties.

The wire service produced the final version of its map in May 2011 — quite likely, as I contended two years ago, because “it was clear that meaningful improvement still had not occurred and would likely not be evident in even a majority of counties in time for the (2012) presidential election.” In other words, it was about to turn into a tool to use against instead of in support of incumbent President Obama.

Almost five years later, and over 6-1/2 years after the recession ended, NACo reports that only “214 (of 3,069) county economies (have) recovered on all four indicators economic output (GDP), employment, unemployment rates and home prices.”

That’s “almost three times more” than the previous year. At that unimpressive rate of annual numerical growth — roughly 140 counties per year — all of the nation’s counties would finally achieve full recovery in about 20 years, or 2035.

Here are some of NACo’s other key findings:

  • “Almost 16 percent of county economies had not recovered on any indicator.”
  • In a stunning reversal of fortunes, “Ninety-one (91) county economies that recovered in 2014 slid below their pre-recession peaks on economic output (GDP) in 2015.” This impact was apparently seen throughout the nation, as “oil and gas county economies represented about a sixth of them.”
  • “Close to half of county economies saw growth across all indicators in 2015.” In other words, more than half didn’t.
  • “Economic output (GDP) declined in more than a third of county economies.”
  • “Adjusted wages in the county increased in about two-thirds of county economies” during 2014 (the most recent year available), and declined in about one-third.
  • “28 percent of county economies saw real wages declining while productivity increased.” (In another 13 percent, both wages and productivity declined.)

Even the somewhat “good news” — “almost two-thirds the number of county economies recovered or … (never had a) recession on home prices by 2015″ — needs to be taken with a grain of salt, given that the other findings presented above clearly indicate that more people in counties throughout the U.S. are finding the idea of buying a home financially out of the question.

But, as noted above, this isn’t news. The AP chose to begin ignoring or even studying similar data almost five years ago, and it’s not about to start telling America the ugly truth about the nature of the Obama economy’s so-called “recovery” now.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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