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Places on the Margin: Economic Insecurity and Recovery across County Populations

Authors: Lora A. Phillips*, Arizona State University
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Economic Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: economic insecurity; economic recovery; economic resilience; economic crises; counties
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent national events and debates have substantiated a reality that many Americans long sensed to be true: the financial stability and upward mobility characteristic of the post-war era have given way to pervasive, systemic insecurity. While large and growing cross-disciplinary literatures elucidate nationwide increases in employment, housing, and income insecurity, questions remain regarding the generalizability of national findings to lower levels of geography. In other words: Americans are struggling--but are they struggling equally everywhere? I address this question by exploring variation in economic insecurity and recovery therefrom across county populations, between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s. Using a novel measure of population-level economic insecurity, in combination with data from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program of the United States Bureau of the Census, I find substantial variation in the frequency, duration, and magnitude of economic insecurity across county populations. I also find substantial variation in the recovery process, including whether county populations ultimately rebound to pre-insecurity levels of economic well-being. I leverage these findings to classify counties as stable and growing, unstable and growing, stable and declining, or unstable and declining--wherein nearly half of counties are categorized as unstable and declining. The distribution of these county types across the United States is also geographically uneven, with counties in New England, the Midwest, and the mid-South faring particularly well and counties in the Rust Belt, Deep South and Pacific Northwest faring particularly poorly. Additionally, rural counties not adjacent to metropolitan areas fared significantly better than metropolitan counties.

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