The Cities That Have Bounced Back the Most From the Recession

Here's where per capita income has grown (and shrunk) the most since the recession.

A gas flare is seen at an oil well site on July 26, 2013, outside Williston, North Dakota.
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How do you bounce back from a deep recession? Oil helps, as does being home to some of the world's most successful tech companies. According to new data from the Commerce Department, several of the cities that have come back from the recession most quickly have a booming industry buoying them along.

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Since 2009 – a low point income-wise for most U.S. metropolitan areas – per capita income has jumped by nearly 46 percent in Midland, Texas, and nearly 24 percent in Odessa, Texas. Two cities in North Dakota, which has profited greatly from a recent oil boom, also sit in the top 10, along with San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley. All of these cities have seen their inflation-adjusted per capita incomes grow by 12.5 percent or more since 2009, compared to growth of around 3.5 percent across all U.S. metropolitan areas.

Below are the 10 cities where per capita income has increased the most since 2009.

Note: All figures are in 2013 dollars. Source: Department of Commerce.

Area 2009 Per Capita Income  2012 Per Capita Income Change 2009-12
Midland, Texas $57,871 $84,479 46%
Odessa, Texas $35,070 $43,433 23.8%
The Villages, Fla. $30,227 $35,635 17.9%
Hanford-Corcaran, Calif. $27,619 $32,383 17.25%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. $27,708 $31,706 14.4%
Madera, Calif. $27,708 $31,706 14.4%
Bismarck, N.D. $41,452 $47,058 13.5%
Grand Forks, N.D.-Minn. $39,554 $44,672 12.9%
Elkhart-Goshen, Ind. $32,136 $36,162 12.5%
Longview, Texas $37,939 $42,667 12.5%

Meanwhile, cities hardest hit by the recession are having problems bouncing back. Las Vegas, where a popping housing bubble sent unemployment skyrocketing, is the only major metropolitan area among the 10 cities that faltered the most since the recession. A few cities in Arizona, where the housing crisis also hit hard, are also near the bottom of the list. Yuma, a city on the U.S. Mexico border, has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 32.6 percent. It also had one of the lowest per capita incomes in the nation as of 2012, at an inflation-adjusted $26,064.

Below are the 10 cities where per capita income fell the most from 2009 to 2012.

Area 2009 Per Capita Income 2012 Per Capita Income Change 2009-2012
 Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula,Miss. $38,164 $36,058 -5.5%
 Yuma, Ariz. $ 28,905 $27,460 -5%
 Killeen-Temple, Texas $42,167 $40,150 -4.8%
 Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev. $39,005 $37,307 -4.3%
 Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, S.C. $43,440 $41,556 -4.3%
 Flagstaff, Ariz. $36,819 $35,419 -3.8%
 Alexandria, La. $39,382 $38,086 -3.3%
 Sierra Vista-Douglas, Ariz. $38,332 $37,255 -2.8%
 Kennewick-Richland, Wash. $38,838 $37,748 -2.8%
 Rocky Mount, N.C. $34,497 $33,531 -2.8%

Note: All figures are in 2013 dollars. Source: Department of Commerce.

Of course, there are simple mathematical reasons many of these cities made the top 10. Starting with a relatively small income, like Elkhart, Ind., Madera, Calif., or Yuma, Ariz., means that a relatively small gain or drop in per capita income can yield a relatively large percentage change. In addition, smaller cities can be more susceptible to per capita income swings, meaning the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking might have an outsized benefit on small cities where the oil and gas industry plays an outsized role.

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"That particular industry – oil and shale – I guess in these instances, plays a really big part relative to the economy itself. Oil has been a big story, but it's really magnified because these places are relatively small," says Michael Dolega, an economist at TD Economics.

That also means a few large earners can more easily sway Midland's income figure than they could affect New York City's. These statistics do not at all capture income inequality, meaning that not everyone in Odessa or Midland is living large (and it's not likely that everyone in Gulfport, Miss., has seen their incomes fall sharply).

"You'd need different statistics to get a good grasp of who's benefiting from it, [like] landowners versus the broader population in the city," Dolega says. "It's a single metric."

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