The Local Impact of Unemployment and Recovery


3 min read

Tonight at 7:00pm President Obama will call together all members of Congress and the wider public to present his plan for stimulating job growth and decreasing unemployment across the country. The unemployment rate has held constant at just over 9% for the last five months and peaked at 10.1% in October 2009. The slow pace of change in unemployment over the summer raises the question of whether the government is doing enough to keep the economy recovering from the global recession that started in late 2007.

We can evaluate this at a local level by mapping the change in the unemployment rate county-by-county along with the total economic recovery spending by the government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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Over the last year, we see that unemployment dropped in 58% of counties by an average of 0.25 percentage points. On average the Recovery Act funded 31 projects at a total of $24,131,582.47 per county. Nationally this works out to about $282.66 in recovery spending per person.

The color scale shows the change in unemployment over the last year from red — showing an increased unemployment rate — to green — showing a lower unemployment rate, or job growth. Counties receiving less than $10 million dollars in recovery spending are hashed with a white pattern. This leaves the top third of counties with the most spending shown with solid colors.

Several states, including Michigan, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Nevada, have seen considerable decreases in unemployment and high recovery spending. Look for darker green counties with no pattern fill to see where this is happening.

Other states, like Texas, Alabama, and Georgia, stand out for continued job loss and low recovery spending. Notice the regions of dark red (high increase in unemployment) with white hashing (lower recovery spending).

Overall, it’s impossible to tell for sure how much recovery spending improved the economic situation, because we just don’t know how bad things could have been. It may be the case that without spending, this map would have a lot more red. Or maybe not. What’s interesting here is the local impact and information we are able to see from processing a few sets of open data. Check out how your county is doing compared to its surroundings. How about compared to a more or less urban county nearby?

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You can embed this map on your own site by copying and pasting the following code onto your website or blog post:

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About the map and data

This map was made using open source TileMill and publicly available open data. The geodata and population totals per county are from the Census Bureau. The Recovery spending data comes from, and it was summarized by adding the funding per project by location in Quantum GIS.

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