The Great Recession had a profound impact on industry and labor conditions throughout the United States. The ensuing recovery has been uneven – both geographically and across time – and today, many places have not recovered or have economies that differ from the pre-recessionary period.
Montgomery County’s economy was also affected by the Great Recession, however, its employment shrank less than those of other jurisdictions during the height of the recession. Our research shows that employment in the county declined 1.8 percent between 2008 and 2011, compared to 3.9 percent nationwide.
The reason for this tempered loss is the role played by the federal government in the county’s economy. Industries such as finance, construction, retail and others were supported by federal funding directly through contracts and suppliers, or indirectly through the multiplier effects of county household spending from federal workers. Professional and technical services declined by 0.3 percent in the county (from 79,112 to 78,865 jobs), more than four times less than the 1.3 percent decline at the national level (see Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1: Industry Change in Montgomery County (2008-2011)
Figure 2: Industry Change in United States (2008-2011)
However, the post-recession years, from 2011 to 2014, were tough in Montgomery County, with sluggish job growth trailing the nation’s more robust rate of recovery. Again, this slow growth stemmed from federal employment in the county, which fell by 1.2 percent and led to a slower economic recovery across the region than the nation.
Montgomery County experienced net job growth across seven different job sectors during this period, but three of them – construction, wholesale/retail trade and information – grew by 1 percent or less. The county’s growth was principally in state and local government (as government jobs grew modestly in the county overall), health care and education, and the leisure and hospitality sectors. In contrast, nine job sectors grew at the national level –nearly all of them within the private sector– and seven of these nine grew by 4.4 percent or more (see Figures 3 and 4).
Figure 3: Industry Change in Montgomery County (2011-2014)
Figure 4: Industry Change in United States (2011-2014)
Since 2014, federal employment in Montgomery County has recovered, along with growth in professional and technical services, but at a slower rate than the nation. The uncertainty of future federal spending continues to hold back growth in the county, particularly in many of the high-skill, high-wage industries with strong connections to the federal government.
Industries in the county that are typically associated with middle-to-lower skill jobs, such as manufacturing, retail/wholesale trade and administrative services, also experienced a cumulative loss of jobs during the period of 2014 to the third quarter of 2016. This decline stands in contrast to the nation, where these same industries grew 2.1, 3.5 and 6.7 percent, respectively (see Figures 5 and 6).
As a result, Montgomery County continues to lag behind the nation as a whole in its employment expansion, growing by a cumulative 2.4 percent, compared to a national growth rate of 4.6 percent, from 2014 to 3Q 2016.
Figure 5: Industry Change in Montgomery County (2011-3Q 2016)
Figure 6: Industry Change in United States (2014-3Q 2016)
Currently, Montgomery County is taking steps to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on the federal sector. Despite slower growth in its more high-wage, competitive industries, the county’s workforce remains highly skilled and well educated, particularly in science and technology. The county and state of Maryland are trying to leverage these advantages into fast-growing information and technology-based industries, such as cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing and biotechnology, which match well with the skill set of the county labor force.
These services are expected to be in high demand by the private sector for the foreseeable future, and employment can largely be sustained independent of federal spending. If successful, efforts such as these to enhance Montgomery County’s economic base can lead to a more resilient economy.