Tough Times Are Everywhere, Right? Wrong

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Some towns are defying the recession, with cranes dutifully piecing together new buildings, new businesses opening, populations showing increases, and average resident income actually growing. How do they do it? Chances are, Uncle Sam has given them a helping hand.

What city saw the largest growth in per-capita income? Oklahoma City. USA Today explains:

This city is perhaps the most surprising. Construction cranes are busy here. New medical buildings are underway. Buildings are being renovated in the historical Bricktown neighborhood. Oklahoma City’s June unemployment rate of 6% was the second-lowest in the nation for metropolitan areas with 1 million or people, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Its per-capita income grew 6.9% in 2008 to $40,942, compared with a year earlier, the Commerce Department reported last week. That growth made the city No. 1 in the USA for large metro areas.

If you’re considering a move, look closely at towns that are heavily involved in the medical field and the U.S. government. They’re the ones thriving—or at least not suffering badly—in today’s economy:

Of the five big metro areas with the lowest unemployment rates — Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Washington, San Antonio and Austin — four are state or U.S. capitals and all have a large government workforce.

On the other hand, here are some places that aren’t doing so hot lately:

Asbury Park, N.J.: The long, drawn-out recovery of the seaside town made famous by Bruce Springsteen has taken a step backward during the recession. Didn’t the Boss once sing something about “one step forward, two steps back”?

Orange County, Calif.: The ritzy parts of the O.C. aren’t quite as ritzy or popular as they were not long ago.

Elkhart, Indiana: Thanks to an ongoing series of stores at msnbc.com, it’s the middleclass face of the recession, where unemployment is twice the national average.

Ten ‘Fastest Dying Cities': Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and seven other cities branded thus by Forbes are hurting, but in light of a recent brainstorming session to combat their image (and economic) problems, they’re not giving up without a fight.