If you're interested in getting a handle on where the recession is hitting hardest, you'd be hard pressed to find any better tool than the AP's Economic Stress Index.
The map displays unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcy, and a combined "stress index," all the way down to the county level. The tabs on the right allow you to see historical data. What's coolest: By clicking on "October 2007-Present" you get a slider, which shows all of the data, month by month, over time.
So what does the data say? Things aren't exactly rosy. Compared to last year, unemployment has risen. The hardest hit areas—those depicted in the deepest shades of brown—are Michigan, Ohio, and the South:
But there does seem to be a silver lining: Those deep brown areas often overlap with those that actually show declining unemployment from July to August. That suggests we might be seeing a trough in unemployment figures. (Granted, this recovery seems tenuous, given the worrying figures from September, which were just released.)
Meanwhile, home foreclosures, which spurred the financial system's downward spiral, also seem to be abating somewhat:
But on an absolute level, they remain distressingly high:
Long story short: We're not off the ropes yet. But you can see why some economists are venturing to say that the recession might be over—even as the prospects for a recovery remain uncertain.
[Via Chart Porn]