ARC: Eastern Kentucky counties realize economic uptick

Published 3:00 pm Friday, July 15, 2022

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The Appalachian Regional Commission on Thursday released its 2023 map of county economic status and distressed areas for fiscal year 2023, and Kentucky has seen a drop in the number of counties categorized as “Distressed” by the ARC.

Appalachian Regional Commission

Every year, ARC applies an index-based classification system to compare each county in the Region with national averages to understand how counties are performing. Analyzing three-year average unemployment rates, per capita market income, and poverty rates, each one of Appalachia’s 423 counties in their 13 state region is then classified within one of five economic status designations—distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment.

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The designations are also used to determine the match requirements for ARC grants, as well as research topics and investment strategies targeting resources to the Region’s most distressed areas.

In fiscal year 2023, there are 82 counties designated as distressed by the ARC, 109 as at-risk, 218 as transitional, 10 as competitive, and 4 have reached attainment.  This analysis draws on retrospective data, illustrates trends over time, and informs ARC’s grantmaking process.  It is starting to reflect the economic impact of the COVID crisis as data covering that timeframe are now becoming available.

In Kentucky, the 2023 fiscal year breakdown has 36 counties as distressed, 15 in the at-risk category, and three as transitional.  No counties were listed in either the competitive or attainment categories.  You can see the counties in the map that accompanies this story.

This is an improvement over the 2022 fiscal year, when Kentucky had 39 counties in the distressed category, 12 at risk, and three transitional.  The improvement is that three counties moved from distressed to at-risk.

They say their vision is to ensure that Appalachia, a region of great opportunity, will achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation, meaning the Region’s economic indicators will become proportionate with the nation as a whole.

ARC has released these reports annually since fiscal year 2007.  While the number of distressed counties can fluctuate from year to year, the current number is the fourth-lowest count since 2007.  While significant progress has been made, challenges such as economic transition in coal communities, the substance abuse crisis and COVID-19 remain.