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Economies grow in US counties, but strength still eludes many

The economies of almost all U.S. counties grew by leaps and bounds last year, yet few returned to the health they reached before the 2007-09 recession, a report released on Monday shows.

Unemployment declined in nearly all of the country's 3,069 counties in 2014, according to the National Association of Counties, but not enough to hit the lows reached before the longest and deepest U.S. economic downturn since the Great Depression.

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Only 5 percent of counties had unemployment rates as low as before the recession and around 25 percent achieved their pre-recession employment levels in 2014.

People wait in line to enter the Nassau County Mega Job Fair at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York October 7, 2014.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
People wait in line to enter the Nassau County Mega Job Fair at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York October 7, 2014.

And only 65 county economies have fully recovered from the recession, even though almost half of them had accelerating job growth, expanding economic output and stabilizing housing prices in 2014, the association found.

Large counties lagged the most last year. Only one county with a population of more than 500,000 achieved pre-recession lows in unemployment. Job growth was fastest in medium-sized counties, with populations of 50,000 to 500,000.

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Counties' pre-recession unemployment rates are not publicly available and the association relied on propietary data from Moody's Investors Service, the group's spokesman said.

Many local governments, and some states, were still recovering from the

2001 recession when the Great Recession began, which intensified the impact of the downturn on their budgets and public services. The slow recovery after the recession has kept public spending low, but also raised concerns about the readiness of many cities and counties to confront another recession.

National employment data mirrors the association's findings. The U.S. unemployment rate fell throughout 2014 to end at 5.6 percent, more than a full percentage point lower than in December 2013. But that still trailed the country's pre-recession low of 4.4 percent.