The national unemployment rate stubbornly hovers above 9 percent, according to the federal government. However, there are some neighborhoods and cities with substantially lower rates. Likewise, Standard and Poor's reports that home prices remain about 31 percent lower than their 2006 peak, though values are creeping up slowly in many areas. Some areas have seen smaller declines, and are making a stronger rebound.
Here are four places in the United States that are bucking the recession trend - and they tell four different stories. To be sure, these aren't the only places in the country with success stories, and many people struggle even in these cities. Still, they offer some positive news and trends worth noting.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Ann Arbor is a bright spot in the struggling state of Michigan. CBS reported early in 2011 that Ann Arbor had posted the nation's largest year-over-year gain in housing prices. The average home value jumped 11.3 percent during 2010. The city also has 7.2 percent unemployment compared to 11.2 percent statewide. To be sure, Ann Arbor's population has dropped 1.6 percent since 2000, but this compares to double-digit declines in other Michigan cities. Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, is one example of a national trend showing that college towns are holding up relatively well in the recession.
In addition to college towns, state capitals seem to fare well. Austin happens to have the nation's largest university, and is a state capital. More important, though, is the city's blockbuster small business growth. Austin is one of only six U.S. metropolitan areas with a rate of output growth consistent with sustained economic recovery, according to the Brookings Institution. Notably, three of the other cities are also in Texas - Houston, McAllen and Dallas. Austin stands alone at the top of many other lists. Kiplinger Magazine called Austin "arguably the country's best crucible for small business," citing a dozen community programs for entrepreneurs and a dozen venture-capital funds. The city has seen impressive job growth during the recession, and unemployment for the Austin metro area is 7.3 percent. Home sales increased 33 percent from August 2010 to August 2011, though home values are still dropping, according to the Austin Business Journal.
Based solely on home prices in Jacksonville, you would think the recession never happened. Real estate values continue to rise steadily, and they are equal with their 2008 peak, according to Zillow.com, a massive real estate website. The town of 82,000 sees steady turnover and growth in the housing market thanks to two Marine facilities in the town. Jacksonville's unemployment rate is 9.7 percent, not an ideal number, but significantly lower than the North Carolina state average of 10.4, according to the federal government. Moreover, the Jacksonville economy grew more than 20 percent between 2007 and 2010.
Marshfield is one of the strongest parts of a strong area. Marshfield, a town of 25,000 south of Boston, has 6.5 percent unemployment, according to the state department of revenue. The town saw 6 percent job growth between 2000 and 2010, according to Money Magazine. In March, Boston magazine listed Marshfield as one of the region's best places to live, noting an 11 percent increase in home values from 2010 to 2011. The median home price in Marshfield is $367,000.