Unemployment remains stubbornly high and the economy is producing jobs at an agonizingly slow pace. The impact falls most heavily on young adults, who increasingly find it harder to match their skills with employment.
At the end of the Civil War, nearly 150 years ago, America faced similar circumstances as war veterans returning to civilian society found jobs hard to come by. Newspaper icon Horace Greeley famously advised them to "go west, young man," and seek opportunity in America's unsettled territories.
Today, despite the depressing headlines, there are still places in the U.S. where jobs and economic opportunity appear to exist for those willing to pack their belongings and relocate. In fact, some states are doing a lot better economically than the rest of the country.
In the early 1980s workers abandoned the "Rust Belt" of the upper Midwest for the "Sun Belt" of the American south and southwest. Today, however, the opportunity may call for movement in the opposite direction.
In a state-by-state breakdown, the Financial Times has found that the economy in North Dakota, of all places, is booming. The unemployment rate is only 3.5 percent, thanks almost entirely to the booming oil sands industry. There appear to be plenty of high-paying jobs and even fast-food restaurants are offering $15 an hour to lure workers.
The North Dakota real estate market has largely recovered as well. Home values are rising in the state and there were only 32 foreclosures in the entire state between October 2010 and October 2011.
The other states in the upper Midwest also appear to be recovering faster than the rest of the nation as a whole. While manufacturing jobs are still declining, states are seeing growth in other sectors. Minnesota, for example, has seen a nine percent gain in "educational services" jobs. Nebraska, bolstered by this year's boom in agriculture, has recorded a nine percent gain in "business services" jobs.
The entire northeast -- New England and the Mid-Atlantic states -- are also doing better economically than the rest of the nation as a whole. According to the Financial Times breakdown, Massachusetts' economy has led the nation in terms of recovery, showing the most overall improvement in terms of employment, foreclosures, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), home price stability, and the poverty rate.
While Massachusetts has recorded double-digit declines in manufacturing, mining and construction, its GDP has surged five percent in the last 12 months.
In the west, Utah appears to be an economic oasis in an otherwise struggling region. Again, heavy industry is not the economic driver. In Utah, the two hottest sectors are "educational services," up 19 percent, and "arts and entertainment," up 13 percent. The state has a seven percent unemployment rate but its GDP has risen nearly three percent in the last 12 months.
America has always been a mobile society and today, young adults who are more mobile than their older, more settled fellow Americans are best able to go where opportunity beckons.
People who own homes in stagnant real estate markets are less free to pick up and move. Renters, however, are not encumbered. Those willing to relocate, and put up with colder winters, just might find economic opportunity by moving north.