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Associated Press introduces interactive maps to measure economic stress at county, state levels


NEW YORK -- Where is the recession hitting hardest? Which places have been spared from the worst economic pain? Which places are recovering?

To answer those questions on an ongoing basis, The Associated Press is launching an index that will provide monthly, multi-format updates on the economic stress of the United States down to the county level.

The Associated Press Economic Stress Index weighs three economic variables -- unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcy -- to produce a score on a scale of 0-100 that measures how the recession is affecting a county compared to all others.

The scores are then plotted on the interactive Associated Press Economic Stress Maps, which demonstrate at a highly local level how economic conditions have deteriorated since October 2007. They also can be used as a tool to measure the progress of recovery in the coming months, providing a granular view of economic change in the United States.

“The AP Economic Stress Index is a valuable tool for analyzing what got us to this point of the recession,” said Kristin Gazlay, the AP’s managing editor for business news and global training. “But, even more importantly, it gives us a way to look at how things change over time and judge whether the economy is actually getting better, including pinpointing precisely where the recovery has its roots.”

The color-coded maps contain video essays from Americans all over the country. Users can also view previous months and see how the nation’s economic stress level has changed over time.

The maps will be updated monthly to reveal each county’s AP Economic Stress score, as well as its unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. These updates will be accompanied by a series of text stories, photos and video that illuminate and provide context to the data.

The index, which includes exclusive data, was developed with help from University of Pennsylvania Professor Tony Smith, an expert in spatial statistical analysis.

Among the project’s many findings: For counties with more than 25,000 residents, LaGrange County, Ind., saw the greatest rise in economic stress between March 2008 and March 2009; Imperial County, Calif., had the highest overall Stress Index number.

It also shows that the hardest-hit areas are heavily concentrated near the coasts, particularly the Southeast and Southwest, and that much of the Great Plains region remains relatively unscathed by the nation’s financial meltdown.

The maps show how much the recession that began in December 2007 deepened in the fall of 2008. For example, in September 6˝ percent of the more than 3,000 U.S. counties had an index score higher than 10. By February, it was up to 40 percent.

Starting on Monday, May 18, the AP Economic Stress Maps for March will be available for 30 days to all AP members who subscribe to AP Hosted Custom News, an online service carried on the Web sites of more than 750 subscribers. This introductory rollout will be accompanied by packages of interpretive stories and photos moving weekly over the course of those 30 days on the wire and in AP Exchange, an online tool offering access to AP’s vast database of content.

At the end of this 30-day period, AP will launch a premium product that each month will include a selection of state-level stories, the updated interactive maps, and the underlying data in a user-friendly format.

All AP members will continue to receive monthly national stories, photo packages and a graphic map plotting the Economic Stress Index for each county.


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