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The mosaic of U.S. unemployment

Even the Great Recession didn't stop some counties from working

In October 2009, in the wake of the Great Recession, the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10%. This economy-wide number is useful but masks important regional patterns. To reveal a more detailed picture, we use GeoFRED to look back at county-level unemployment in October 2009.

In this map, counties are divided into three types, according to their unemployment rates:

  • a rate above the economy-wide peak of 10%
  • a rate between 4% (the current rate as of January 2019) and 10%
  • and a rate below 4%.

Counties in the first group, with rates above 10%, were concentrated on the West Coast and in the Midwest and South Atlantic regions. Counties in the second group, with below-average rates, include other parts of the West and a significant portion of counties in the Northeast (e.g., Wyoming, New York, and Massachusetts).

Counties in the third group, with unemployment below 4%, are concentrated in a column that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. This is no mean feat. In October 2009, the U.S. economy was still reeling from the recession and the financial crisis. But even amidst these poor economic conditions and a national unemployment rate of 10% (the highest since April 1983), these counties managed to maintain extremely low rates of unemployment—lower, in fact, than the current economy-wide rate of 4%, which is exceptionally low by historical standards and has been aided by 10 years of economic expansion.

How this map was created: In GeoFRED, click the green “Build New Map” button in the top right corner of the page. From the “Tools” bar: Use the “Region Type” tab to select “County.” Use the “Data” tab to search for and select “Unemployment Rate” (choose “Not Seasonally Adjusted, monthly, Percent”). Use the “Frequency” tab to select “Monthly” and the “Units” tab to select “Percent.” Use the “Date” tab to select “October 2009.” Use the “Choose Colors” tab to select “Single Hue” option 4. Use the “Edit Legend” tab to select “3” for “Number of Classes” and change “Interval Method” to “User Defined.” Under the “Define maximum interval values” box, type “3.9,” “10,” and “29.5” for the three intervals in increasing order. Use the “Tool Settings” tab to ensure only the “Display Legend” box is checked.

Suggested by Makenzie Peake and Guillaume Vandenbroucke.

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