The Metro Areas Most Lagging Behind in the Recovery

They have a long way to go for a full recovery.
by | May 4, 2016

Nearly seven years into the recovery, some regions have experienced far stronger economic growth than others.

While national job totals have surpassed pre-recession levels, a select group of regional economies has a much longer way to go. These metro areas particularly stand out as most lagging behind the rest of the country in the recovery.

We compiled monthly Labor Department jobs data for all metro areas where employment exceeds 100,000, comparing the most recent job estimates for March with peak levels since 2005. In the following regions, total employment remains more than 10 percent below its most recent peak. (See data for all metro areas.)

Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio, Metro Area

Huntington, W.Va. (FlickrCC/Kevin Schraer)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -23,911 (-14.8 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 161,788 (October 2007)

In the Huntington, W.Va., metro area, job losses have yet come to a halt.

A decline in local manufacturing of metals, plastics and rubber started years ago, then accelerated during the recession. While the downturn in the national economy didn’t help, part of the job losses were also more productivity and technology driven, said Jennifer Shand, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University.

There aren’t any mining operations locally. But the decline of West Virginia’s most well-known industry has led to ripple effects as the area serves as a rail transportation hub.

A hospital is the region’s largest current employer, while several colleges and universities also support a sizable number of jobs. “There’s an overall broader shift of moving from manufacturing-oriented employment to more service-oriented employment,” Shand said.

More recently, activity is occurring in areas like advanced manufacturing, local foods and creative industries. Such efforts, Shand said, are still in their infancy, so they haven’t yet registered as growth industries.

Binghamton, N.Y., Metro Area

Binghamton, N.Y. (FlickrCC/Doug Kerr)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -13,110 (-11.1 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 118,463 (December 2006)

The Binghamton region has suffered a particularly prolonged economic decline as job losses didn't subside until last year.

Much of the downsizing in New York’s Southern Tier has occurred in manufacturing, including electronics and computer-manufacturing. Absent a more diverse set of industries, the economy has struggled to replace lost jobs. The region, which includes part of the Marcellus Shale formation, also suffered a setback last year when the state announced a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracking.

On a positive note, the local economy has started to record slight, but steady, job gains since last fall. The region also received a much-need boost in December when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced it would receive $500 million in economic development aid to fund plant expansions, tourism, job training and other efforts.

Peoria, Ill., Metro Area

Peoria, Ill. (FlickrCC/Roger W)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -21,290 (-10.9 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 195,618 (October 2007)

Peoria serves as a classic example of a regional economy largely tied to a single major employer.

Caterpillar, Inc., is the area’s largest employer, by far, and is the primary customer of an estimated 40 percent of local businesses.

Last year, the company announced that it planned to keep its headquarters in Peoria and construct a global campus in the city’s downtown after being heavily courted by other states. More recently, however, the company trimmed its workforce in a restructuring effort, partly as a result of a weakened mining sector.

The region’s manufacturing and business-professional services sectors typically follow the boom and bust business cycle, said Bernard Goitein, who heads the Center for Business and Economic Research at Bradley University. Two large medical centers also anchor the local economy.

Atlantic City-Hammonton, N.J., Metro Area

Atlantic City, N.J. (FlickrCC/Chris Goldberg)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -14,210 (-10.8 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 131,443 (July 2006)

A slow decline in the tourism and gaming industries has taken its toll on Atlantic City. Metro area unemployment remained above 10 percent for more than six years, peaking in late 2012.

The leisure and hospitality sector, which once employed 60,000 workers a decade ago, has since seen employment drop to about 35,000. The region’s other largest sectors – trade, transportation, utilities and government – similarly have yet to show signs of growth.

Atlantic City officials and state lawmakers have debated a plan in recent weeks to restructure the city’s finances as it faces a massive budget deficit.

Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., Metro Area

Youngstown, Ohio (FlickrCC/Jack Pearce)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -28,429 (-10.7 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 265,140 (December 2006)

Two major factors have contributed to job losses around Youngstown and Warren, Ohio.

The first is the longstanding downsizing of the manufacturing sector. Auto-parts maker Delphi Automotive once employed about 10,000 workers there, but now maintains just over 1,000 employees.

Lower oil prices have hurt the local economy, too, as drilling operations had been a source of job gains in recent years. Pipe manufacturing and a sizable number of other related supply chain jobs also support the industry.

Guy Coviello, the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber's vice president of government affairs, said he sees shale production and additive manufacturing as two promising areas of growth over the longer term. Youngstown is home to a national accelerator for additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

Flint, Mich., Metro Area

Flint, Mich. (AP/Carlos Osorio)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -20,778 (-10.6 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 196,357 (January 2006)

Like other struggling regions, Flint’s economic slide has persisted for years.

The area’s heavy job losses in auto manufacturing have been well documented, with total manufacturing employment today just over half of what it was a decade ago. Government employment has also declined, albeit at a much slower pace.

Two areas recording upticks in employment over the past few years are education and health.

Shreveport-Bossier City, La., Metro Area

Shreveport, La. (FlickrCC/Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau)

  • Job Loss Since Peak: -20,810 (-10.2 percent)
  • Peak Employment: 203,246 (September 2008)

The Shreveport-Bossier City, La., metro area’s unemployment rate has hovered between 6 and 8 percent since 2008.

The public sector there has been hit particularly hard, shedding approximately 7,000 jobs since 2010, according to federal data. Barksdale Air Force Base, located in Bossier Parish, employs more than 12,000 workers.

NOTE: The Norwich-New London-Westerly, Conn.-R.I., and Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla., metro areas also recorded employment declines exceeding 10 percent, mostly as a result of methodology changes that the Labor Department introduced in 2010.

Metro Area Employment Data