Maps

The Surprising Metros That Bounced Back From the Recession First

So far there are only three of them in the U.S. The rest of us are still working on it.

For the past three years, the Brookings Institution has put out an annual Global MetroMonitor report ranking the economic performance of the 300 largest metros in the world relative to each other, to their own countries, and to their past hey days prior to the recession. The latest edition, published today, captures both positive and depressing news for U.S. metros. The positive: Some of them are finally recovering from the recession (this couldn't be said about a single one of America’s 76 largest metros at this time last year).

The depressing? There are just three of them: Dallas, Knoxville and Pittsburgh.

And 20 of these metros actually lost ground in 2012. Globally, North America doesn’t even crack Brookings’ economic performance index – a combined measure of growth in real GDP per capita and growth in employment rates – until Houston comes in at No. 40 and San Jose at No. 46, behind what looks like the entire mass of China (22 of the top 30 metros are Chinese).

The report highlights metro areas that have returned to their recession-eve peak in growth rates of GDP (a measure of standard of living) and employment (a measure of widespread job opportunity). San Jose and Houston are both performing well on these fronts, but not as well as they did before the economy turned sour. This is America’s map of recession recovery:

Brookings Institution Global MetroMonitor 2012

All those yellow dots (sized according to GDP) haven’t gotten there yet. The blue ones have; the pink are sliding backwards. Those red dots – Albuquerque, New Mexico and Madison, Wisconsin – are still in a full blooming recession. You can also peruse Brookings’ interactive map from the report here.

Western Europe looks even worse, while much of the developing world in Asia and Latin America – where many cities suffered no recession at all in the past five years – appear the strongest.

“With all that said, the U.S. story – especially relative to metros in the rest of the developed world – is not as bad,” says Emilia Istrate, an associate fellow at Brookings and the lead author of the report. “While three recovering U.S. metros might not seem like a big result, it’s still better than none last year.”

The economies of Dallas, Knoxville and Pittsburgh rely heavily on large local service sectors in education, health care and government, as well as on financial and businesses services like banking and insurance. This can equally be said of plenty of other U.S. cites on this list. But each of these metros have growing local clients for all of those services, in the form of energy companies (Dallas), shale and natural gas extraction (Pittsburgh) and construction (Knoxville).

The report also focuses on how metros compare relative to each other globally. This map shows how U.S. cities performed in the economic index ranking of the 300 largest metros (sorry, again, No. 282 Albuquerque):

Brookings Institution Global MetroMonitor 2012

And this map shows how U.S. metros fared over this past year relative to the national economy on both GDP and employment growth. The dark blue cities outperformed the nation on both counts, while the red cities did neither. Chicago, in particular, looks in trouble:

Brookings Institution Global MetroMonitor 2012

In all, the 300 metros on this list (which include cities and the surrounding suburbs and countryside that contribute to their economy) account for nearly half of the world’s economic output, even as they house just 19 percent of its population. That suggests that even in a general economic slowdown, cities are still leading the way. 56 of these metros worldwide are doing better than their countries as a whole this year.

"This fact points to the economic reality that often goes under the radar," Istrate says, "that the global economy is in fact a metro-driven economy."

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.