Creative-Class Counties and the Recovery

Rural counties with a large proportion of "creative-class" workers have tended to recover more quickly from the recession. But "amenity-rich" areas near national parks and other natural areas aren’t doing nearly as well, even though they boomed in the 1990s.


click here. The map shows the number and percentage of creative-class and arts workers in each U.S. county.

Nonmetro counties that had a greater proportion of “creative class” workers tended to do better economically after the recession than other nonmetro counties, a new report says.

But they didn’t perform as well as metro areas overall – creative-class or otherwise –  according to the report from the USDA Economic Research Service.

The study also found that a strong performer in rural economics in the 1990s – creative-class, nonmetro counties with lots of natural amenities like national parks, forests and similar areas – did worse than the rest of nonmetro America in recovering from the Great Recession.

Creative-class counties are ones that have a large proportion of creative workers, such as engineers, architects, scientists, artists and others. The theory linking these kinds of workers with economic success is that people who perform such jobs are thought to be especially well suited to helping communities respond to economic change and opportunity.

ERS regional economist Tim Wojan, author of the study and previous work on the topic, points out that the creative-class economic theory was developed first to describe urban communities, not rural ones. The latest findings in Wojan’s research indicate that the creative class’ economic impact seems to behave differently in rural areas than it does in more populous regions.

The study compared the top 25% of counties with the highest share of creative-class employment to the rest of American counties. There are 785 creative-class counties nationally, including both urban and rural areas (a few were dropped from the study because of sampling-error issues). About half of metro counties were categorized as creative class (568 total), while only about 11% (217 total) of nonmetro counties were.

The study broke U.S. counties into four categories of economic performance:

  • Ones that lost jobs but regained employment after the recession.
  • Counties that lost jobs both during and after the recession.
  • Counties that gained jobs both during and after the recession.
  • And counties that performed the opposite of the rest of the economy by adding jobs during the recession and losing them after the recession ended.