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Useful Stats: 1 and 3-year analysis of county-level US RGDP per capita

January 19, 2023
By: Conor Gowder

This edition of Useful Stats takes a high-level look at the United States’ change in Real Gross Domestic Product (RGDP, which is GDP adjusted for inflation) on a per capita basis for each of its counties, boroughs, parishes, etc. (hereon referred to as “counties”). Looking at RGDP per capita allows for an inflation adjusted, population standardized metric for comparing counties over time.

This article explores the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ (BEA) most recent data release for all industries. RDGP per capita is calculated using BEA’s county-level population data, which uses Census Bureau midyear population estimates. This data can be found at the end of this article.

1-Year Change, 2020-2021

The two most recent years of data, 2020 and 2021, reflect a great deal of economic growth, with the total United States Real Gross Domestic Product (RGDP) growing by over $1.1 trillion, or around 6%. In terms of RGDP per capita — RGDP divided by population — of the 3,118 analyzed U.S. counties, 2,373 experienced a year-over-year growth and 738 experienced a decrease.[1] On average, counties’ RGDP per capita increased by approximately 3%, with changes as high as +80% (Coke, Texas) and as low as -36% (San Juan, Colorado).

Of the 2,373 counties that experienced any amount of RGDP per capita growth, the states with the most include Texas (125 counties), Georgia (111), North Carolina and Kentucky (96 each). Among the 738 that lost RGDP per capita over the same time period, many of these counties again are in Texas (128), followed by Georgia (47) and Kansas (42).

A total of 246 counties saw an increase of 10% or more in RGDP per capita between 2020 and 2021, with Texas having the largest number (20 counties), followed by Iowa (18), South Dakota and Arkansas (14 each), Georgia (12), Indiana (11) and Tennessee (10). On the other end of the spectrum, 112 counties experienced a 10% or greater loss in RGDP per capita, with a majority concentration in Texas (28), Montana (14), Nebraska (9) and Oklahoma (8).

However, using the number of counties by itself can be misleading, skewing towards states with more counties; Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island experienced growth in all of their counties for this time period, while the states with the most counties experiencing a growth (see above paragraphs) saw a less positive outcome (e.g., Texas, 49.61% of counties grew; Georgia, 69.81% of counties grew). This trend is visible on the map (which can be zoomed in), but must also be interpreted with caution as comparing the ratio of positive-growth counties to a given state’s total can have a high level of variation depending on its total number of counties.

As seen in the above map, the counties that experienced decreases in county GDP per capita from 2020 to 2021 are primarily located in the central states. Texas had the most counties on both ends of the spectrum, experiencing either particularly high growth or more extreme declines in GDP per capita over the 1-year timeframe. There are a variety of potential explanations for these variations – population migration, decreases in tourism and/or travel, etc. – as this studied time period still falls under the heavy influence of COVID-19.

3-Year Change, 2019-2021

The 3-year period between 2019 and 2021 compares pre-pandemic output to the most recent available data, allowing for insight into what regions and counties have recovered or may still be lagging behind pre-pandemic levels of GDP. In total, US RGDP has grown by approximately $574 billion, or 3%, over the 3-year period. Of 3,118 analyzed U.S. counties, 1,889 saw RGDP per capita growth, while 1,223 saw a decrease (the same six counties as the 1-year analysis did not have compatible data available). On average, counties’ RGDP per capita increased by approximately 1.37%, with changes as high as +86.06% (Foard, Texas) and low as -41.28% (Cumberland, Illinois).

Of the 1,889 counties that experienced any amount of RGDP per capita growth between 2019 and 2021, the states with the largest counts were Texas (110 counties), followed by Georgia (89), Tennessee (81), North Carolina (80) and Illinois (74). Of the remaining 1,223 that experienced any decrease, Texas and Georgia also hold the most with 143 and 70 respectively. However, in this case, despite holding the most counties with any growth, Texas had more of its counties decreasing in RGDP per capita (approximately 56.5%), showing a less positive outlook over the 3-year period.

While less counties experienced RGDP per capita growths when compared to the 2020/21 period, more counties experienced large growths (10% or higher); South Dakota (30 counties), Nebraska (28) and Texas (24) hold the most counties that experienced growth of 10% or higher from 2019 to 2021. Other notable states include Kansas (18), Iowa (17) and Arkansas (15). Alternatively, of the 230 counties that experienced a decrease of 10% or more between 2019 and 2021, 55 are in Texas. Oklahoma (16), Montana (15), Nebraska (12), Louisiana (11) and North Dakota (10) each held over 10 counties with similarly significant RGDP per capita decreases.

In terms of the percent of each state’s counties that experienced growth, Maine and New Hampshire experienced growth in all of their counties, while the states mentioned in the above paragraphs once again saw more balanced figures between growth and decline. Texas experienced growth in approximately 43.7% of its counties, similar to Georgia (55.97%). However, the other states holding the most growth counties reflect an even stronger image: Tennessee (85.26%), North Carolina (80%) and Illinois (72.55%) all had both a high quantity and high ratio of positive-growth counties within their borders.

In an upcoming issue, we’ll examine the 20-year change from 2002-2021.

Past SSTI coverage of BEA county-level GDP can be found here, here and here.

[1] One of the remaining seven counties had a negligible positive change from its 2020 to 2021 values, while the remaining six did not have compatible data over the two-year period.

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