Newton economic stress decreases

Photo by Karie Bradley

Photo by Karie Bradley

Newton is no longer one of the most economically stressed counties in the nation, according to the Associated Press Economic Stress Index.

Last fall, Newton was the only county in Georgia to make the top 20 list on the index, landing at number 19 with a score of 19.76. Newton County's score fell to 19.51 in February, bumping it off the top 20 list. The county's current ranking was not given.

The AP's index calculates a score of 1 to 100 based on unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. A higher score signals more economic stress.

The index shows Newton County's unemployment rate at 12.1 percent, down by .4 percent from the prior month and .8 percent from a year ago. The foreclosure rate is 4.93 percent, a decrease of 1.24 percent from the prior month and .09 percent from last year. The bankruptcy rate is 3.68 percent, down by .01 percent from the prior month and .43 percent from last year.

Georgia, Florida and Arizona, three states that were hit hardest by the recession, enjoyed the sharpest gains in February, the Associated Press reported. Georgia added nearly 15,000 jobs in February in professional and business services, health, education, construction, transportation, tourism and manufacturing.

Georgia's economic recovery has not been up to par with the rest of the nation, but things are improving, said Jeffrey Humphreys, director of economic forecasting for the University of Georgia. The state has seen job recovery since last spring, he said.

"It's been almost a year. It's a very slow recovery. We're starting to see some acceleration in Georgia. We're starting to close in on the nation, but we're still lagging, quite frankly," said Humphreys.

"Primarily the problem for Georgia is that so much of the economy is tied to home building and real estate development and related industries," he added. Humphreys said that's due to population growth in the state double the national average as well as few barriers for new development. Georgia's economy is expected to catch up with the rest of the nation in 2012 or 2013, he said.

Fourteen of the 20 most stressed counties were in California. The most stressed state is Nevada, with a score of 21.16. The healthiest economies are in the Plains and New England. North Dakota was reported as the healthiest state at a score of 5.21.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.