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Useful Stats: Annual change in county-level GDP per capita, 2019-2020

January 06, 2022
By: Colin Edwards

This edition of SSTI’s Useful Stats begins a series of articles examining recently updated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data for 2020, identifying changes in GDP per capita during the first year of the economic impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic, and setting the stage for future articles diving deeper into the impacts of the pandemic on local economies. Specifically, this analysis focuses on the annual percent change from 2019 to 2020 in county-level GDP per capita (calculated as total county GDP divided by total county population) using comprehensive geographical data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and population data from the Census Bureau.

Nationally, total GDP fell by 2.2 percent from nearly $21.4 trillion in 2019 to $20.9 trillion in 2020. However, using a singular and cumulative measure to compare so many diverse counties — each with different populations, assets, and industries — fails to provide adequate information. As such, this analysis focuses on GDP per capita to compare county GDP figures. Nationally, GDP per capita fell by 3.2 percent from $65,113 in 2019 to $63,038 per resident in 2020, marking the first annual decline since 2008 to 2009.

The red shading in the interactive map below shows that most counties also experienced declines in GDP per capita from 2019 to 2020. The counties shaded black in the interactive map saw GDP per capita growth from 2019 to 2020, with the greatest increases in GDP per capita coming from Foard, Texas (117.7 percent); Campbell, South Dakota (66.2 percent); Clark, South Dakota (65.5 percent); Logan, Nebraska (52.7 percent); and, Edwards, Texas (51.1 percent). The counties that experienced the greatest declines in GDP per capita from 2019 to 2020 were Reeves, Texas (-51.1 percent); Ward, Texas (-51.8 percent); Karnes, Texas (-53.9 percent); King, Texas (-57.8 percent); and, Kent, Texas (-58.4 percent).

As seen from these short lists and in the map above, the counties that experienced either extreme increases or decreases in county GDP per capita from 2019 to 2020 are primarily located in the central states, with Texas having the greatest number of counties that experienced a dramatic annual swing in GDP per capita. Colorado and North Dakota also had several counties on both ends of the spectrum, experiencing either particularly high growth or more extreme declines in GDP per capita from 2019 to 2020.

Other regional trends are less defined, although New England and upper Midwest states generally had more counties with average declines, and the lower Midwest and southeast states generally saw more in-state variation between counties with declines and those with increases in GDP per capita.

Click here for the data used in this analysis.

useful stats, gdp