Christy Nameche moved with her family to Kendall County, Ill., in 2007, joining thousands of other hope-filled newcomers who made the county No. 1 in population growth in the nation that year.
Nameche liked the farms around her new neighborhood, the fact that she could see the stars at night and the chance to raise her two children with other young families who were pioneering this far-flung Chicago suburb.
Like so many other families, their timing was off.
Just two years later, the developer of Nameche's new neighborhood has gone bankrupt, some neighbors face foreclosure, many lots sit empty and the long-awaited conversion of an adjacent field into a town park is stalled. Kendall County is struggling, another once-booming American locale gone bust.
Fast growth from 2007 to 2008, the early part of the recession, turned out to be a strong predictor of problems as the recession dragged on, according to an Associated Press analysis of recently released Internal Revenue Service migration data, which compares where taxpayers filed their returns from one year to the next.
Kendall County's population more than doubled to 100,000 over the past decade. In the early months of the recession, people kept coming, before it was clear that the economy was starting to sour.
For every 4 percent increase in new taxpayers from 2007 to 2008, there was a 1 point increase in the Associated Press Economic Stress Index scores from the start of the recession until now.
AP's Economic Stress Index calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on a county's unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. The higher the score, the worse off the county. The average county stress score was 10.2 in November 2009, the most recent month for which figures are available.
Kendall County's score shot up from 8.06 in December 2007 to 17.9 in November 2009, one of the nation's greatest gains in economic stress since the start of the recession. The county has been socked with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, a 2 percent bankruptcy rate and a 6.3 percent foreclosure rate.
While its unemployment rate is only slightly higher than the national rate of 10 percent, its foreclosure rate is about four time higher than the national average and its bankruptcy rate is more than 1 1/2 times the national average.
For those who kept moving to Kendall County in the second half of the decade, "it was just bad luck. They didn't know this thing was going to crash," said Dennis Stone, vice president of Pilmer Real Estate Inc. in Plano, Ill. "If they bought in the last five years, most of the people, particularly the people who went for all the mortgage bait that was out there ... they're upside down."
The term 'upside down' — when a home's market value drops below the amount owed on the mortgage — is one that many taxpayers in Kendall County have learned the hard way.
Two years after the start of the recession, signs of the housing bust are everywhere.
Construction jobs have disappeared, the county has seen a wave of foreclosures and thousands of lots that were prepped for building homes sit empty. Houses that are on the market are being offered for 75 percent of what they sold for three years ago.
Nameche is still happy she made the move, despite the fact that the 2,400-square-foot house that she paid almost $240,000 for in 2007 is now worth $20,000 to $30,000 less.
"We're a very young subdivision with a lot of young children, and we have a lot of people who have a lot of things in common," said Nameche, 31, a sales manager for a cell phone company. "I like how peaceful it is."
Across the country, a lot of people are now staying put, whether they want to or not. IRS data shows a slowing down in U.S. mobility, a phenomenon supported by estimates released by the Census Bureau at the end of 2009. The 11.9 percent annual migration rate is the lowest in decades.
The AP's analysis shows that counties with wealthier, better educated taxpayers generally were most likely to see county-to-county migration gains. Counties where the work force had large numbers of jobs in support positions — such as office administrators or payroll clerks — construction and mining, including high-paying jobs in oil and natural gas extraction, were also most likely to draw newcomers.
The AP analysis also showed something unusual in a fraction of the nation's 3,141 counties: total incomes rose in more than 200 counties even though they lost households. That was because poorer migrants moved out and richer ones moved in. Topping that list were several counties known for beaches, second homes and retirees: Collier, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties in Florida and Barnstable County, Mass., home to Cape Cod.
"People who move tend to be younger and have lower incomes," said demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution. "Normally, if there is a big influx of young people, that could pull down the income of an area and if there is a big outflux of young people that can raise income in an area."
That appears to have happened in Collier County, Fla., which lost households to larger Florida communities such as Fort Myers and Miami as construction jobs and tourism jobs faded away in 2007 and 2008. But Collier County gained $729 million in total income from new, wealthier residents moving from suburban Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and Long Island.
The same thing happened at the state level. Florida, New Hampshire and Vermont lost households but gained income.
Both Florida and Vermont got income boosts from New York and New Jersey, just as Florida lost households to Georgia, and Vermont lost residents to North Carolina.
New Hampshire got an income boost from Massachusetts as it lost households to Florida.
The reverse was true for a handful of states. Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, Virginia and West Virginia gained population but lost income from 2007 to 2008, indicating that wealthier residents left and poorer ones moved in.
AP's analysis offers an explanation:
— Iowa and Virginia had large numbers of foreign migrants arriving.
— Large outflows of income from Missouri and West Virginia went to two popular states for retirement: Florida and North Carolina.
— Large outflows of income from Louisiana went to Texas, even as the state gained households. The new arrivals tended to have less education, and income, than those who left the state.
"It's an interesting time right now because we're gaining population," said LSU sociologist Tony Blanchard. "However you have to look under the numbers and temper the excitement some because ... while we're gaining people in terms of bodies ... the average education of the population through this net migration is going down."
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