Recovery Favors Warm Retirement Locales

Economic recovery has been strongest in the South, according to new Brookings report.

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The South has fared better than other parts of the country in recovering from the recession, according to Brookings Institution's quarterly study of the country's 100 largest metropolitan economies. For seniors deciding where to spend their later years, higher-growth areas can translate into better public services and less pressure for higher taxes.

[See 15 Tasks to Become Retirement Ready.] Brookings looks at job markets, economic output and housing activity and ranks the nation's largest urban areas on these performance measures. And while it finds warm-weather markets have an edge in the recovery, even the best performing markets have yet to recover all the jobs they lost during the recession.

"The U.S. economy’s performance is driven largely by that of its major metropolitan economies," Brookings said. "All of those economies saw some economic growth in the first quarter of 2010, and some returned to their pre-recession levels of output, but none recovered its pre-recession employment level. Most continued to lose jobs and experience high unemployment rates."

The top 15 markets continue to post employment declines as measured from their recent peaks. The declines ranged from 1.1 percent in McAllen, Texas and 1.6 percent in El Paso to 3,6 percent in Des Moines, Iowa. The 15 worst markets had cumulative job losses of 9.6 percent to 17.1 percent, with Detroit holding down the unenviable last-place spot.

[See Time to Lock in Bargains for Senior Housing.]

Economic output continued to post gains that are not being reflected in job growth. Washington, D.C., for example, topped the nation in posting output during the first quarter that was 6.3 percent higher than its peak before the recession. However, the area still employs 2.2 percent fewer persons than it did during those peak times. Even though that's the nation's third-best job recovery, it illustrates how slow employers have been to restore jobs. The story in many markets remains negative on both the output and jobs fronts.

Housing markets have even further to go and some may not reach their previous peak prices for many years. Home prices in Houston during the first quarter of the year were only half a percentage point below their comparable, inflation-adjusted level during the first three months of 2007. That was the best performance in the country. The weakest 15 housing markets, Brookings found, were all in Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada. The three-year price declines there ranged from 36 percent to more than 56 percent. The average home price drop in the 100 areas was 21.4 percent, while the overall U.S. average drop was 17 percent during the three-year period ended last quarter.

The complete listings for the 100 markets in all categories are available from Brookings.

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