Local Health Departments and the 2008 Recession

Two-thirds of local health departments experienced difficulties weathering the recent recession; half cut jobs and programs.

The Issue:

During economic hard time such as the recession that began in 2007, many, but not all local health departments (LHDs) are forced to cut budgets, jobs, and programs. Researchers sought to determine what characteristics—revenue streams, services offered, populations served, or other community contextual factors—contribute to financial resiliency or the ability to maintain budgets during periods of economic stress.

Key Findings

  • Overall, 33.2 percent of LHDs were deemed resilient; 66.8 percent nonresilient.

  • Resilient LHDs served smaller populations and were better resourced in 2005 and 2010, compared to nonresilient ones.

  • Resilient LHDs serving the smallest populations (less than 25,000 people); received more revenue from federal pass-through sources than local ones; provided more treatment and population services; and offered fewer screening services compared to nonresilient ones.


LHDs that diversify their revenue sources—are less reliant on local property tax receipts and more on income-generating services—may be protected from future economic downturns.

About the Study:

Investigators used data from 987 LHDs that voluntarily completed surveys in 2005 and 2010 administered by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The surveys collect data on organizational, financial and operational characteristics of LHDs.