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Nationwide, the recession is technically over. Or at least that is the view of most economists. They note that real U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) finally expanded in the third quarter of 2009, growing at a 2.8 percent annual rate after four consecutive quarters of contraction. They point to a significant slowing of job losses in November, rising housing prices, and a slight downtick in unemployment as other positive signs. Their conclusion: Economic recovery is at last underway. And yet, the pace of renewal seems tentative and its geography patchy. Most notably, the aggregate national story of recovery and expansion overlooks the fact that just as the American economy varies from region to region, and metropolitan area to metropolitan area, so does the recovery. Consider, for example, the economic landscape of the Intermountain West and its metros, as depicted in this inaugural edition of the Mountain Monitor—a companion product to Brookings’ national MetroMonitor and a production of the new Brookings Mountain West initiative, a partnership between Brookings and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Drawing on data covering the third quarter of 2009 (ending in September), the new Monitor documents that no multistate region has been hit harder by the last year’s economic crisis than the six-state Intermountain zone. Across the region, the deflation of a massive housing “bubble,” widespread job losses, and the onset of a significant public-sector fiscal crisis have wreaked havoc on many communities. In many Intermountain region locations, the sheer abruptness of the shift from hyper-growth early in the decade to a severe contraction in the last year has spawned a sense of almost existential whiplash. As the findings below highlight, even within the region the effects of the recession and recovery have not been uniformly felt. Phoenix, Boise, and Las Vegas, for example, remained three of the most troubled metropolitan areas in the entire nation in the third quarter, with all residing in the weakest quintile of metros on a combined measure of overall economic performance. Still, metros like Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and Denver have only been moderately affected by the recession and seem poised to renew their upward trajectory as the pace of recovery quickens. The upshot: While the Intermountain West is an increasingly distinct region in national affairs, it remains disparate—a still-loosely linked network of individual metropolitan economies, some of which remain mired in recession and many of which are clearly recovering. Which is the point of the Mountain Monitor. Designed to serve as a barometer of the health of the Intermountain West’s metropolitan economies, this Western monitor looks beneath the single account of the national statistics to draw into clear light the diverse metropolitan landscape of America’s New Heartland as originally highlighted in the Brookings report “Mountain Megas.” In this fashion, the Mountain Monitor aims to distinguish the particular contours of the Great Recession and its aftermath in the Mountain region from those elsewhere, and so contribute to the region’s growing self-understanding. To that end, we examine data on employment, unemployment, output, home prices, and foreclosure rates for the region’s 10 large metropolitan areas, the nation’s 100 largest metros, and 17 smaller metros dispersed around the Intermountain region.


Business cycles; Economic development; Economic history; Housing – Prices; Job creation; Metropolitan areas; Recessions; Unemployment; West (U.S)


Economic History | Economics | Work, Economy and Organizations