Skip to content
CityLab
Economy

Which U.S. Cities Suffer the Most During a Recession?

A new study charts the business cycles of the nation’s largest metros across three periods of economic decline.
Job seekers wait in a line at a Michigan job fair.
Job seekers wait in a line at a Michigan job fair.Paul Sancya / AP

In times of recession, some cities are hit much harder than others. A new study published in the Journal of Urban Economics takes a close look at the uneven effects of the past several business cycles, including the Great Recession, on America’s metros. To do so, it tracks monthly economic activity for the nation’s 50 largest metros over the course of several recessions between 1990 and 2015, charting their effects on economic output, productivity, wages, and unemployment.

Some recessions are weaker than others, and their effects vary by geography. Slightly more than half of large metros (26 out of 50) experienced a recession during the national recession in the early ‘90s. Rustbelt metros like Detroit and Cleveland, hard-hit by deindustrialization and the contraction of the manufacturing industry, faced long and deep recessions, as did tourism- and housing-oriented metros like Miami, Tampa, and Orlando. Coastal metros like New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and L.A., as well as Riverside, Providence, and Hartford, also experienced significant recessions in the early ‘90s. By contrast, western metros like Seattle, Denver, Portland, San Antonio, Austin, and Salt Lake City managed positive growth—perhaps because their housing prices remained relatively low and they were in the midst of developing knowledge- and tech-based economies.