State of the Heartland: Factbook 2018

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Editor's note:

This report was co-produced with the Walton Family Foundation and can also be seen here.


The State of the Heartland: Factbook 2018 benchmarks the performance of the 19-state American “Heartland” on 26 socioeconomic measures and is intended to help Heartland leaders and citizens better comprehend the region’s current trajectory at a time of rapid economic and social change.

Focused on how the defined region’s economy has been performing since the recent financial crisis, the factbook provides both encouraging and trying news for the region.The good news is that the region is doing better than is sometimes portrayed, particularly on measures of tradable industry presence. With that said, the Heartland is variable in its prosperity and serious deficits in human capital and innovation capacity pose challenges to future prosperity in many areas.

The factbook was developed through a partnership of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution and the Walton Family Foundation and was prepared to support the Walton Family Foundation’s inaugural “Heartland Summit.”


Why have we looked at the Heartland? The proliferation of “red vs. blue” maps and apocalyptic talk-show punditry has, if anything, made it harder for the region to get a clear sense of itself and how it is doing. What Heartland change makers need is a clarifying look at the region—by the numbers, and with an agreed-upon geography. Such a chronicle can help promote understanding and improved decision-making.


The factbook adopts a modern, state-based definition of the Heartland (developed by the Walton Family Foundation) that begins with the classic Midwest and includes parts of the South, but excludes both the original 13 American colonies and the Intermountain West. As defined here, the Heartland consists of 19 mostly inland states sprawled across nearly 1.1 million square miles—roughly one-third of the U.S. landmass. In total, the Heartland economy is bigger than Germany’s and just a bit smaller than Japan’s.

Outcomes + Drivers

The factbook first reviews nine Outcomes that track and benchmark the region’s top-line economic health locally and relative to the rest of the nation. These nine indices address three dimensions of successful economic development: growth, prosperity, and inclusion. Data are available for the multistate region, states, and in some cases, metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas.

The factbook also explores 17 Drivers that benchmark the region’s standing on four crucial sources of prosperity: tradeable industries, human capital, innovation, and infrastructure. Strong positioning on these drivers will allow the Heartland to maximize prosperity and respond to the economic forces such as globalization, technological change, demographic transition, and declining national investment in growth and opportunity. Data for these measures are available for the multistate region, states, and in some cases, metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas.

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Interactive by Alec Friedhoff