Improved Economies in the Left-Behind Counties

From The No Good Deed Files – Digby’s Hullabaloo (

 Jim Tankersley @ The NY Times reports (Italicized quotes) the Biden administration has pulled off an amazing success in some places that will never reward him for it:

America’s so-called “left behind” counties — the once-great manufacturing centers and other distressed places that struggled mightily at the start of this century — have staged a remarkable comeback. In the last three years, they added jobs and new businesses at their fastest pace since Bill Clinton was president.

The turnaround has shocked experts. “This is the kind of thing that we couldn’t have even dreamed about five or six years ago,” said John Lettieri, the president of the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank that studies economic distress in the U.S. His group is releasing a report today that details the recovery of left-behind counties.

Those counties span the nation but are largely concentrated in the Southeast and Midwest. In today’s newsletter, I’ll explain how they defied recent trends — including a particularly grim stretch under Donald Trump — to rebound so strongly from the pandemic recession. I’ll also show the one indicator that helps explain why voters there might not reward President Biden for the good news that has happened on his watch.

These 1,000 or so “left-behind” counties suffered greatly over the past two decades under Bush, Obama and Trump, the latter of whom promised to help them and did absolutely nothing:

In 2018, a colleague and I noted that left-behind counties that voted for Trump had not seen any net job gains the previous year. The new Economic Innovation Group analysis shows that, in terms of job growth, left-behind counties experienced three of their four worst years since the Great Recession on Trump’s watch.

The pandemic recession hit those counties harder than the rest of the country, just as the Great Recession did. But their recovery has been much stronger this time. Left-behind counties added jobs five times faster in the first three years of the Biden administration than they did in the first three years of the Trump administration. The flow of residents leaving them for better opportunities slowed.

Perhaps most strikingly, they have shared in a new-business boom that has swept the country since the pandemic. That didn’t happen after the Great Recession. From 2009 to 2016, for example, Bay County, Mich., lost 8 percent of its business establishments. Since 2020, it has gained 12 percent.

According to all the economic determinists that should have sealed the deal for Joe Biden, right?

Wrong. Nobody knows exactly all the factors that have brought about this renaissance but Biden will get no credit in any case:

Whatever the explanation, though, Biden probably should not expect voters in those areas to reward him electorally. Many left-behind counties are solidly Republican, or have moved to the right since Trump first ran. And for all their job and business gains, left-behind counties were hurt by high inflation in the early Biden years. In 2021 and 2022, the typical household income in those counties fell, after adjusting for rising prices. Those price increases have left voters unhappy with Biden on the economy, no matter where they live.

Inflation trumps everything else and Biden is blamed for it despite everything else. In fact, if Trump is elected in November, he will be given all the credit and there will be nothing Democrats can do about it. It’s built in.

But lets face facts. Economics are overrated as the top explanation for people’s voting habits. It’s just that there’s no comfortable vocabulary outside of economics they can use to explain why they love Trump and the fascist movement he represents. It’s tribal identity formed around opposition to liberals, urban dwellers, Black people, immigrants, feminazis etc. and there is great relief and joy for them in being part of that tribe. It’s not about suffering. It’s about grievance and blame and nobody has given those feelings more validation than Donald Trump.

It would be nice if the NY Times gave this story more that a few paragraphs buried deep in the paper but from what I understand that’s Biden’s fault for not making more of a big deal about it so never mind.