Earlier this month, unemployment hit a 20-year high, rising to 6.5 percent over the month before.
Folks in Denver-area Adams County may fare better than others nationwide. Year-over-year job growth is 3.4 percent, thanks to a diversified local economy that includes aerospace, aviation and bioscience jobs. Homeowners pay a scant $1,536 in property taxes and enjoy some of the most affordable properties in the country.
Residents in Madison County, Ala., Pulaski County, Ark., Hamilton County, Ohio, and Greenville County, S.C. have a similar story. They're within commuting distance to Huntsville, Little Rock, Cincinnati and Greenville, respectively, boast enviable job growth figures and round out our list of the top five spots to live affordably during an economic downturn.
In compiling our list, we looked at three factors: affordability, property taxes and job growth. Moody's Economy.com provided us with an affordability index for each county. A score of 100 indicates that a family earning the median income in the surrounding metropolitan area can afford to buy a median-priced home. The higher the score, the higher the affordability.
The U.S. Census Bureau provided information on 2007 property taxes, and year-over-year job growth data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We cut out counties that don't include distinct townships that are within an hour's drive from an urban area.
Several counties in Texas appear on our list. This is because homes statewide are relatively affordable thanks to low fees for building permits and liberal zoning policies. Property taxes, however, zing homeowners; Texas has neither state nor city income taxes, so local governments rely on property taxes as their main source of funding.
The median property tax in No. 9 Montgomery County is $2,816. In September, the county's median single-family home price was $181,900, up 6 percent from the same month last year, but still 11.9 percent lower than the national average of $206,500, according to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.
"High oil and gas prices are a double-edged sword in Texas," says Dr. James Gaines, an economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. "When the energy industry flourishes, Texas flourishes."
In September, the Houston metropolitan area's unemployment rate was 5.1 percent — lower than the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. Year-over-year growth in Montgomery County is 4.7 percent — thanks, in part, to jobs in the energy sector.
Infrastructure projects have been a boon for other areas, like the northern Cincinnati suburbs in Hamilton County, Ohio.
"Cincinnati was waiting to expand to the north," says Kenneth Gold, the director of Ohio State University's Real Estate Center. Over the past two to five years, new roads have led to higher value homes, big-box stores and upscale shopping centers in suburban areas. Gold says that the majority of new jobs are being created outside of downtown Cincinnati.
Even so, experts agree that the worst is yet to come. In October, the Census Bureau reported that nationwide, median home prices were down 9 percent from the same month last year. Experts predict that pending foreclosures and a weakening economy are likely to decrease home prices for at least another year.
"People are taking a wait and see approach," says OSU's Gold. "Developers have gone from asking 'How fast can we build?' to 'Do we want to build at all?' "