Enterprising States

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 8:00pm

Policies that Produce

Executive Summary

Beating Expectations: How States Defy the New Normal

Troubled by economic stagnancy and high unemployment, many pundits and policy makers are referring to the U.S. economic malaise as the “new normal,” claiming that we have reached both technological and economic plateaus. To be sure, the relative weakness of the current recovery – arguably the weakest in contemporary history – does support the “new normal” thesis.

Not everyone, or every state, accepts the notion of inevitable, slow growth and gradual decline. From the onset of the recession, some states have largely avoided the downturn. By the end of 2011, six states – North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Utah, Texas, and Montana – showed more than 8% job growth over the past decade. Another 22 had shown some, although less robust, employment increases compared to 2001.

More important still, nearly every state enjoyed some overall private-sector job growth between January 2011 and January 2012. Most critically, growth has spread to many states hardest hit by the recession, including Michigan, California, and Florida. The strongest job growth continued to take place in other states, notably Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and North Dakota.

The new geography of growth reflects many of the intrinsic strengths of the U.S. economy often missed by many policymakers and commentators. After a brief lapse, the country is already outperforming all its traditional high-income rivals in Europe, as well as Japan, as it has done for most of the past two decades. Key U.S. assets include surging agricultural and energy production, the general rebound in U.S.-based manufacturing, and unparalleled technological supremacy. The country remains attractive to both foreign investors and skilled immigrants.

For the U.S. to be successful, this new geography of growth needs to extend across the 50 states and expand for long enough to signicantly lower the high rate of unemployment. This will require something more than a single-sector focus. Attention must be paid to both basic and advanced industries since innovation and technology growth alone cannot turn around most regions and states.  Download the full report. (PDF)