Chronically Distressed Metropolitan Area Economies

By Howard Wial, Hal Wolman, and Travis St. Clair (BRR working paper [pdf], 2012).

This paper examines metropolitan areas that have endured chronic low levels of growth over a long period of time. These chronically distressed regions (or slow-burning regions, as some have termed them) may require a different set of responses than regions that experience external shocks over a period of only a few years.

The authors consider a chronically distressed region as one whose rate of growth is slow relative to the national economy over an extended number of years. They examine total employment from 1970 through 2007 and gross metropolitan product (GMP) from 1978-2007 for 361 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States.

The paper asks:  What factors contribute to a region becoming chronically-distressed? What distinguishes those regions that are able to recover from chronic low-growth from those that are not? For those regions that do recover, what accounts for the duration of their recovery?