Investigative reporter Bill Dedman of msnbc.com
By Bill Dedman Investigative reporter
msnbc.com
updated 11/16/2009 6:22:40 PM ET 2009-11-16T23:22:40

The economy may finally be nearing the bottom of the recession in 23 of the nation's metro areas, according to the latest Adversity Index data on jobs, manufacturing and housing from Moody's Analytics and msnbc.com.

Although not a single metro area in the nation was "in recovery," 23 out of 381 showed a "moderating" recession, meaning their economies were not contracting as severely as six months earlier. The list:

  • California: Hanford-Corcoran
  • Colorado (2): Boulder, Denver-Aurora-Broomfield
  • Connecticut (2): Hartford-W. Hartford-E. Hartford, Norwich-New London
  • Florida: Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice
  • Georgia: Savannah
  • Illinois and Wisconsin: Lake County, Ill.-Kenosha County, Wis.
  • Louisiana: Baton Rouge
  • Maine: Portland-S. Portland-Biddeford
  • Massachusetts (2): Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, Peabody
  • Mississippi: Pascagoula
  • Nevada: Carson City
  • Tennessee and Kentucky: Clarksville, Tenn.-Ky.
  • Texas (7): Austin-Round Rock, Fort Worth-Arlington, Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, San Angelo, San Antonio, Wichita Falls
  • Utah: Provo-Orem

Although these areas may be first to come in for a landing, that does not mean that they necessarily will be the first to take off again.

"I don't think I would categorically say that these are the places pulling out of recession first, because it may not follow an even path toward recovery," said economist Andrew Gledhill of Moody's Analytics. "Many that fall into this category may end up staying at this level of 'moderating recession' for quite a while."

"Bradenton and Carson City stick out to me as places, while there may be evidence that the worst declines are in the past, there still remains a long road to recovery, considering the housing and credit problems," Gledhill said. "For some in this group, there will be an early recovery; those scattered across Texas appear to be good candidates."

Each month, Moody's Analytics and msnbc.com use data on employment, industrial production, housing starts and house prices to label each state or metro area as: expanding, at risk of recession, in recession or recovering.

"Play" the recession
Here are several ways to explore this month's Adversity Index:

  • An interactive map shows the economic health of every state and metro area. You can "play" the map to watch the progress of recessions over 15 years, or select any state to see data for each metro area for each month.
  • The updated index will be published every month at http://adversity.msnbc.com. There is a lag of nearly two months, so June data will be out in August.
  • An explainer tells how the Adversity Index assesses the economy.

Every area in recession — except one
Overall, the recession continued to spread in May. The Adversity Index shows that the recession reached every state, and all but one of the nation's 381 metro areas.

That holdout is Bismarck, N.D., which benefits from high prices for its energy products. Its housing prices also didn't run up as high as the rest of the country, so they haven't fallen so far either. Bismarck is becoming a transportation hub for the region. And the North Dakota state government is doing much better than average financially.

"If you're flat to what you were doing last year, that's the 'new up' in the economy. And we are fortunately a little bit up over last year," Stuart Tracy, chef and owner of Pirogue Grill, told NBC station KYFR. (See the video below.)

Bismarck has moved close to recession, labeled "at risk" by Moody's, without falling in yet.

"A slowing of personal income growth will lead to a mild contraction in employment in Bismarck," said economist Glenn Wingard of Moody's Analytics, which sells reports on metro areas. "Its healthy housing market and low exposure to Wall Street write-downs will ensure that the downturn will be modest."

A view from Elkhart
The economic decline continued to accelerate in May in Elkhart, Ind., where msnbc.com has been reporting on the nation's struggles through the lens of the Indiana city.

  • Employment in the Elkhart-Goshen metro area fell 14.4 percent from a year earlier, according to the latest Adversity Index, compared with 14.3 percent the previous month. Again this is the greatest decline in the nation. The next two on the list showed much milder declines: 10.5 percent in the metro area of Holland-Grand Haven, Mich., and 10.0 percent in the carpet-manufacturing area of Dalton, Ga. The greatest increase in jobs was in the Lewiston, Idaho-Wash., area, up 3.5 percent.
  • Industrial production in the Elkhart area fell 27.1 percent year over year, compared with a 27.5 percent annual decline reported in the Adversity Index a month earlier. This was the second-worst decline among metro areas. Worst again was Gary, Ind., down 28.6 percent. Third was Anchorage, Alaska, down 26.7 percent. The smallest decrease in manufacturing output was in Carson City, Nev., down 4.3 percent. No area showed an increase in manufacturing.
  • The single-family housing construction industry fell by 76.1 percent in Elkhart from a year earlier, in terms of housing starts, according to the latest Adversity Index. The fastest decline was in Battle Creek, Mich., down 95.3 percent, followed by Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich., at 94.4 percent, and Lima, Ohio, at 92.9 percent. The greatest increase was in Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif., up 639.3 percent from a tiny output a year earlier.

Those three measures are based on comparisons of three-month moving averages for the periods ending May 2008 and May 2009.  The assessment of "moderating recession" compares six-month moving averages.

The fourth component of the Adversity Index, home prices, will be updated when second-quarter figures are released.

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