The Appalachian Regional Commission (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 using national data. According to the rankings, 80 Appalachian counties — the lowest number in over a decade — will be considered Distressed (ranking among the worst 10% of counties in the nation). Meanwhile, 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). The report also shows that 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 shift. At the same time, 18 Appalachian counties will experience negative shifts in their economic status since FY 2019. This primarily includes coal impacted counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
To determine the economic status of each of the Region’s 420 counties, ARC applies a composite index formula drawing on the latest data available on per capita market income combined with the previous three-year average unemployment rate, and the previous five-year poverty rates. With this data, each county is classified into one of the five economic designations. An analysis of the data also found that poverty rates in Appalachia and the nation as a whole dropped 0.4 percentage points and 0.5 percentage points respectively. This finding shows a widening gap between Appalachia’s poverty rate (16.3 percent) and the nation’s rate (14.6 percent).
The County Economic Status Designations help determine match requirements for ARC grants.