Friday, June 05, 2009

Three Rust Belts?

Roughly, there are at least two Rust Belts. If you like, there is Chicagoland and Not Chicagoland. However, I'm beginning to think there are three Rust Belts:

Real Time Economics provides a nice online list of unemployment rates by metropolitan area. It’s fascinating to scroll through. Things I noted:

1) The top of the list if very geographically concentrated. CA, MI, FL, and OH appear again and again. It’s pretty easy to identify the places — the West Coast, the southern Atlantic coast, the Midwest — where things are worst, but it seems very clear that the recession in California and Michigan is an entirely different animal than the recession everywhere else. But the big takeaway is that the cities with above average rates are concentrated in just a few states.

2) There’s surprising strength in the eastern Rust Belt. Look who has a below average unemployment rate: Buffalo, Scranton, Syracuse, York, Pittsburgh. Not what I was expecting.

For more on Pittsburgh unemployment, check out Chris Briem's latest. What Avent labels "the eastern Rust Belt" strikes me as urban nothern Appalachia, the ridges and valleys that used to serve as America's frontier. The second Rust Belt might be the Midwest. The western region is in the prarie, or plains states.

The geography of the Great Recession is uneven. Stating that the "Rust Belt" is once again getting hammered is grossly misleading. The sense that today is 1982 all over again is part of the problem. For the "eastern Rust Belt", the current downturn is hardly remarkable. (Relative to past corrections) Old mental maps die hard.

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