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Useful Stats: 20-Year Change in US Real GDP per capita, 2002-2021

February 02, 2023
By: Conor Gowder

From 2002-2021 (the last 20 years for which data is available), the total U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP adjusted for inflation, or Real GDP) increased by approximately 45%, from $13.5 trillion to $19.6 trillion in chained 2012 dollars. On a per capita basis, county-level real GDP increased by an average of 36% over the past 20 years, with a range of growth from -77% (Brooks County, Texas) to 3,950% (Culberson County, Texas).

Across the country, 2,539 counties experienced an increase in real GDP per capita growth between 2002 and 2021. The plurality were located in Texas (192 counties), (Texas alone has 8% of all U.S. counties), followed by Kansas (100), Georgia (97), Iowa (96), Montana (93) and Nebraska (92).

Several states showed consistency in their county-level growth. Three states — Hawaii, North Dakota and Rhode Island — each experienced real GDP per capita growth in all of their counties. Three others saw particularly strong state-level growth — Nebraska (99% of counties), Iowa (97%) and Kansas (95%) — even if a few counties did not experience an increase.

The remaining 568 counties experienced a decrease in real GDP per capita. Texas and Georgia each have 62 of these counties, and North Carolina followed with 38 counties.

As can be seen in the map above, many of the counties with the greatest rates of change in per capita real GDP are rural. Smaller populations make these regions more susceptible to large percentage-based changes. Changing energy production patterns over this period (particularly natural gas and wind) also may be a contributing factor to the large percentage increases observed in many areas.

High-population counties generally experienced more modest percentage growth in real GDP per capita than the rural areas. The top five most densely populated counties that experienced growth are Los Angeles County in California (46% growth in real GDP per capita), Cook County in Illinois (19%), Harris County in Texas (12%), Maricopa County in Arizona (20%), and San Diego County in California (34%). Among counties with at least two million residents, King County in Washington had the greatest increase in real GDP per capita (74%), and Clark County in Nevada saw the weakest (-3%).

The following map can be used to view each 1-year change over the last 20 years.

The above searchable database shows a 20-year line graph for every county, sorted in alphabetical order by county name.

Some of the past SSTI coverage of BEA county-level GDP can be found here, here and here.

Click here for the data used in this analysis.

useful stats, gdp, county, states