Appalachian region facing economic challenges


FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- Parts of Kentucky still rank poorly when it comes to economic status, according to new data from the Appalachian Regional Commission. 

The ARC has released its County Economic Status Designations for Fiscal Year 2020, which annually ranks the economic status of each of the region’s 420 counties in 13 states, using national data.

According to the findings, 80 counties will be considered distressed (ranking among the worst 10% of counties in the nation); 110 counties will be considered At-Risk (ranking between the worst 10–25% of counties in the nation); 217 counties will be considered Transitional (ranking between worst 25 and best 25% of counties in the nation); 10 counties will be considered Competitive (ranking between best 25 and best 10% of counties in the nation); and 3 counties will be considered Attainment (ranking among the best 10% of counties in the nation).

Kentucky has 54 counties ranked in the study, 38 are in the distressed category, 13 considered at-risk, while the other three are considered transitional.  None are in the highest two categories.

Factors the ARC used in coming up with the designations include the three-year unemployment rate, per capita market income and the poverty rate.

“Parts of the Appalachian Region face significant economic challenges compared to the rest of the country, and by releasing this data publicly in an accessible format, ARC is seeking to ensure awareness of these challenges, and to inform policymakers at all levels,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “ARC and our state partners use this data to direct critical investments toward distressed areas, and I am pleased to see net improvements in many parts of the Region compared to previous years.”

Those improvements include:

--FY 2020 will have the lowest number of designated distressed counties in Appalachia since 2008.

--29 Appalachian counties across 8 states experienced positive shifts in the economic status since FY 2019. This primarily includes counties in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi which each have five or more counties experiencing positive economic status shifts.

--18 Appalachian counties will experience negative shifts in their economic status since FY 2019. This primary includes coal impacted counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

While the three-year average unemployment rate decreased by 0.6 percent, the same as the rest of the nation, the region did not fare to well compared to the rest of the nation in a couple of areas:

--Per capita market income increased in both Appalachia and the nation as a whole. However, the nation as a whole grew by 0.2 percentage points more, widening the income gap between Appalachia and the nation.

--Poverty rates in Appalachia and the nation as a whole dropped 0.4 percentage points and 0.5 percentage points respectively. This continued to widen the gap between Appalachia’s poverty rate (16.3 percent) and the nation’s rate (14.6 percent).

ARC has been issuing index-based County Economic Status Designations yearly since 2007, primarily to help the Region’s 13 states develop economic investment strategies for the forthcoming year.


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