The recession in Los Angeles was different from the recession in Detroit, which was different from the recession in Oklahoma City. But not in the way you might think. As the “Average Earnings Per Job in 2011” map shows, income tends to be higher in the Northeast, in the mid-Atlantic region, and in states with major cities. Tracking change in earnings over the course of the recession, however, produces a very different map (“Growth in Average Earnings Per Job, 2007–2011”)—one in which rural regions in the middle of the country experienced a surge in income even as wealthier states watched wages stagnate.
Many of the industries that were hit hardest by the recession—finance, information, and construction, for example—are prevalent in higher-earning states, while many of those that grew in spite of the downturn are clustered in lower-earning states. The result is that the average paycheck in Nebraska, while lower than that in New York, is growing much more quickly.
Central to this transformation is America’s natural-resources boom. Over the past 10 years, new drilling technologies have cracked previously inaccessible reserves of shale oil and gas in North Dakota, West Virginia, and other states. So as the recession descended on the rest of the country, these states saw employment and wages mushroom, not just for rig workers but for waitresses, truck drivers, real-estate agents, and everyone else who keeps a thriving economy thriving.