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Useful Stats: GDP per capita by county, 2012-2015

December 13, 2018

For the first time, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released prototype gross domestic product (GDP) data at the county level. This preliminary data, which includes the years 2012 to 2015, provides a granular look at county-level productivity. Furthermore, standardizing this data by population – GDP per capita – makes it a useful metric for comparing counties over time and across the country.  From 2012 to 2015, per capita GDP grew in 82 percent of counties. Of the 138 counties with a population of more than 500,000 (large counties), GDP per capita increased in all but five from 2012 to 2015, led by Palm Beach County, Florida (32.2 percent increase), Santa Clara County, California (28.6 percent) and Denton County, Texas (27.6 percent). Using data from the BEA and the U.S. Census, SSTI has prepared a spreadsheet showing GDP per capita at the county level from 2012 to 2015, as well as an interactive map highlighting this data.

The BEA divides counties into three types (small, medium, and large) based on population sizes. There are 138 counties with a population greater than 500,000 (large), 461 with a population between 100,000 and 500,000 (medium-sized), and 2,514 counties with a population smaller than 100,000 (small). The vast majority (92.3 percent) of the 563 counties experiencing a decline in per capita GDP from 2012 to 2015 had populations smaller than 100,000. However, eight of the nine counties where GDP per capita doubled from 2012 to 2015 were in smaller counties, which suggests that not all small counties are facing similar economic conditions.

The map above looks at per capita GDP by county in 2015, with high measures on the coasts and in the plains (dark blue), and lower levels in Appalachia and the rural South. In 2015, the most recent year where data is available, per capita GDP differed greatly across counties, especially small counties. The counties with the highest and lowest levels of GDP per capita both had populations well below 100,000. Eureka County, Nevada, a global hub for gold mining, had the highest GDP per capita ($475,430 per person), while Long County, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, had the lowest levels of GDP per capita in the United States at $4,745 per person in 2015.

Among large counties, New York County, New York, had the highest per-capita GDP ($416,394 per person), while its neighbor, Bronx County, had the lowest levels ($21,348 per person). Medium-sized counties had the smallest range between the highest and lowest performers: Arlington County, Virginia ($161,174 per person), part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, had the highest per-capita GDP among medium-sized counties, while Paulding County, Georgia, ($12,593 per person), part of the Atlanta metropolitan area, had the lowest level in 2015.

Of the counties with more than 500,000 in population, GDP per capita grew the most in Palm Beach County, Florida (32.2 percent increase), part of the Miami metropolitan area, Santa Clara County, California (28.6 percent), home to Silicon Valley, and Denton County, Texas (27.6 percent), which is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Only five large counties recorded a decline in per capita GDP, led by Baltimore County, Maryland (3.9 percent decrease), Tulsa County, Oklahoma (2.5 percent decrease), and Harris County, Texas (1.7 percent decrease), which includes Houston.

Guadalupe County, Texas (122.8 percent increase), part of the San Antonio metropolitan area, Sussex County, Delaware (45.2 percent increase), part of the Delmarva Peninsula, and Washington County, Maryland (36.0 percent increase), home to Hagerstown and part of the broader Washington, D.C. combined statistical area, recorded the largest increases in per capita GDP from 2012 to 2015 among medium-sized counties. Four counties had double-digit decreases in per capita GDP during those years, led by Ascension Parish, Louisiana (22.3 percent decrease), Lafayette Parish, Louisiana (15.5 percent decrease), and Midland County, Texas (13.6 percent decrease).

Several small counties recorded extremely high growth in GDP per capita from 2012 to 2015, led by Roberts County, Texas (199.5 percent increase), Laurens County, South Carolina (180.3 percent increase), and Cameron Parish, Louisiana (125.3 percent increase). The small counties with the largest decreases in per capita GDP were Wheeler County, Nebraska (64.2 percent decrease), Slope County, North Dakota (55.5 percent decrease), and North Slope Borough, Alaska (54.0 percent decrease).

Data on per capita GDP at the county level can be downloaded here in Excel format. A future Useful Stats article will look at the counties where goods producing sectors, services sectors, and government sectors comprise the largest portion of gross domestic product.


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