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What is the state of the U.S. economy?

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As Barack Obama begins his second term as the 44th president of the United States, the economy is better than it was in January 2009 at the start of his first term. But what is the state of the U.S. economy? And how might it look in the future? This post looks at some of the key economic and demographic indicators by location. While the U.S. overall is doing better, conditions in local economies may vary.


When Barack Obama first took office in January 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate was 7.8%. During Obama’s first term that figure jumped to 10% in October 2009. The current rate was back to 7.8% as of December 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Individual states have different results for unemployment depending on local economies. From January 2009 to November 2012 (the most recent available statistics by state), 27 states have a lower unemployment rate. Michigan showed the largest decrease in unemployment — from 11.3% to 8.9% — due in part to better performance by car companies.

Unemployment rates increased in 21 states between January 2009 and November 2012. New Jersey posted the highest increase in unemployment — from 7.4% to 9.6%. A variety of factors may have contributed to this increase, including the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Unemployment rates in Georgia, Oklahoma, and the District of Columbia were the same in January 2009 as in November 2012.

Unemployment rates may vary for individual counties due to local economic conditions. Of the 3,137 counties in the U.S., 84.8% had a decrease in unemployment during Obama’s first term, 13.5% had an increase, and the rest stayed the same. The county with the largest decrease in unemployment was Sargent County, N.D. Its unemployment rate decreased from 28% in January 2009 to just 2% in November 2012. This dramatic drop in unemployment rates may be due in part to the $250 million, 77-turbine PrairieWinds ND1 wind-farm project and the discovery of crude oil in the Bakken Formation, with an estimated 3 billion to 4 billion barrels of recoverable oil, only a tiny percentage of which has been tapped.

Yuma County, Ariz., wasn’t as fortunate as Sargent County. Its unemployment rate increased more than any other county going from a high 16.8%in January 2009 to 27.5% in November 2012. This high unemployment is attributed to the seasonal nature of agricultural hiring. Agriculture is a large industry in this rural county.

What do the unemployment number look like in your state or county? Use this interactive map to find out.

Click on image to enlarge map.

Median Household Income

Income is a key indicator of consumer confidence. The U.S. median household income in 2012, according to estimates from Esri, a geographic information systems company, is $50,157. This is down 7.9% from $54,442 in 2010. Esri expects the median household income to increase 13.4% to $56,895 by 2017 as the economy improves.

The state with the highest median household income in 2012 is Maryland at $68,038. Mississippi has the lowest median household income of $36,381. Both states, according to Esri, will increase their median household incomes by 2017. Median income in Maryland will rise 18% to $80,426 and Mississippi’s will rise 14.7% to $41,732.

ZIP codes with the highest median incomes are all in or near major cities. Many of the top ZIPs are in New York state. They include 10106 (New York, N.Y.), 10506 (Bedford, N.Y.), and 11765 (Mill Neck, N.Y.). Other top ZIP codes include 94027 (Atherton, Calif.), 07979 (Pottersville, N.J.), and 60043 (Kenilworth, Ill.).

Check out the map to find more details about median household incomes around the nation.

Click on image to enlarge map.

U.S. Demographics

The demographics in the U.S. is changing. Overall, the population is getting older. In 2010, the median age was 37.1. In 2012 it is 37.3. Esri predicts that the median age will be 37.8 in 2017. Another striking change is the growth of minority populations. According to the Census Bureau, minority races include American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander as well as the Hispanic ethnic group.

The biggest change in U.S. demographics is growth of the minority population. Currently, 37% of the population is considered a minority. A person in the “majority” is considered to be white, non-Hispanic. Esri estimates that minorities will be 39.1% of the total population in 2017.

In many local areas of the U.S., white, non-Hispanics are no longer in the majority. In Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and Texas, minorities are now the majority. By 2017, Nevada may be added to that list.

Several ZIP codes where almost 100% of the population is a minority include 60621 (Chicago), 11412 (Saint Albans, N.Y.), and 90001 (Los Angeles). In ZIP code 60621, 97.7% of the population is Black. In 11412, 91.8% is Black, and in 90001 89.2% is Hispanic and 10.1% is Black. Most ZIP codes with higher percentages of minority populations are located in the South and West.

Explore this interactive map and learn about the minority population percentages in your neighborhood:

Click on image to enlarge map.

Why Does this Matter?

The U.S. economy appears to be improving as household income and home values increase, and unemployment is leveling off and declining. Local economies vary. Some are adding jobs more quickly than others. Incomes and home values are rising in some places. The demographics are changing everywhere, more rapidly in the South and West. Knowing how the nation is changing and at the local level can help President Obama and other policymakers make the best decisions and policies to serve the nation.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at ESRI.com/data, or to learn more about Esri in general, go to ESRI.com.

Pam Allison is a digital-media and marketing strategist and a location-intelligence consultant. You can visit her blog.