New data reveals outdoor recreation’s share of the GDP during a year filled with uncertainty
This month, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released new data on the health of the outdoor recreation economy in 2020—a year of uncertainty and fear, on the one hand, but also a time that inspired many more Americans to get outside.
Overall, data showed that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 1.8 percent, or more than $374 billion, of the gross domestic product last year. Meanwhile, outdoor recreation’s share of each state’s GDP ranged from 4.3 percent in Montana to 1.2 percent in New York and Connecticut.
Here are the 10 states with the highest percentage of GDP value coming from outdoor rec:
Here are the 10 states where outdoor recreation drove the highest spending by dollar amount:
|United States||$ 374,266,455,000.00|
|New York||$ 21,092,369,000.00|
|North Carolina||$ 9,958,597,000.00|
Consequently, the leaderboard for states with the most outdoor recreation jobs almost completely mimics that of highest outdoor recreation spending, except North Carolina jumps to #9 and Colorado squeezes into spot #10, edging out Washington by about 6,000 employees. What is perhaps more interesting is the list of places where the outdoor recreation economy represents the largest share of total employment in the state: Hawaii at 7 percent, Montana and Alaska tied at 5.4 percent, and Wyoming at 5.1 percent. These are also the states where outdoor recreation’s share of all compensation is the highest.
Measuring Pandemic Impacts
The Bureau of Economic Analysis report notes that COVID-19 stay-at-home orders “led to rapid changes in demand as consumers canceled, restricted, or redirected their spending,” and there was a 17.4-percent drop in real gross output for the outdoor recreation economy in 2020. Outdoor recreation employment also declined, from a 9-percent dip in Indiana to a pretty major 27-percent loss in Hawaii.
Of course, the bright spot of the pandemic has been the uptick in outdoor recreation participation and public land visitation—but how did this translate to spending?
The BEA splits total outdoor recreation activities into three segments: 1) The core activities, like hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, etc.; 2) supporting activities, like visiting restaurants or booking hotel rooms while traveling for outdoor recreation; and 3) other outdoor recreation, like visiting outdoor waterparks, festivals, sporting events, and concerts.
Of those three categories, as you can imagine, there has been more of an impact on travel and tourism spending and outdoor events with big crowds during COVID. Meanwhile, the value added by the conventional outdoor recreation segment in 2020 jumped to 37.4 percent, compared with 30.6 percent in 2019. This increase was due to higher spending on boating, fishing, and RVing, which will hopefully continue.
Why This Affects Conservation
The BEA makes an annual update of the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, which measures economic activity and sales generated by a broad range of outdoor recreation activities, including hunting, fishing, boating, and RVing. They track each industry’s production of outdoor goods and services, the sector’s contributions to the U.S. GDP, and statistics on outdoor employment and compensation. To learn more about the BEA’s 2020 report, click here.
This valuable data has only been available in the last five years, since passage of the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. This was a major victory for the hunting and fishing community, because the more we can point to the economic benefits of outdoor recreation, the easier it becomes to advocate for habitat and access improvements and investment in conservation.
Understanding the value of outdoor recreation at the state and national level should help to push lawmakers to spend wisely on conservation priorities that will have a ripple effect on not only habitat but also hunting and fishing opportunities, employment, and our personal wellbeing.
The TRCP and partners have outlined six legislative priorities that would be a win-win for the economy and conservation, and we released a report that shows more jobs are created per million dollars invested in conservation than in most other business sectors. Learn more on our Conservation Works for America page.