CRA announces county economic status designations for fiscal 2020


WASHINGTON, DC – The Appalachian Regional Commission on Tuesday released its Designations of the economic status of counties for fiscal year 2020, which annually ranks the economic situation of each of the Region’s 420 counties using national data.

According to the ARC County Economic Status Designations for FY2020, 80 counties will be considered struggling (ranking in the worst 10% of counties in the country); 110 counties will be considered at risk (ranking in the worst 10 to 25% of counties in the country); 217 counties will be considered transitional (ranking between the worst 25% and the best 25% of counties in the country); 10 counties will be considered competitive (ranking between the best 25% and the best 10% of counties in the country); and 3 counties will be considered achievements (ranking in the top 10% of counties in the country).

The CRA County Economic Status Designation for FY2020 also found:

  • Fiscal 2020 will have the lowest number of designated distressed counties in the Appalachians since 2008.
  • 29 Appalachian counties in 8 states have seen positive changes in economic conditions since fiscal 2019. This primarily includes the counties of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, which each have five or more counties experiencing changes in positive economic situation.
  • 18 Appalachian counties will experience negative changes in their economic status since fiscal 2019. This major includes the coal-affected counties of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

“Parts of the Appalachian region face significant economic challenges relative to the rest of the country, and by releasing this data publicly in an accessible format, the ARC seeks to raise awareness of these challenges and educate decision-makers at all levels, ”said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “ARC and our state partners are using this data to direct critical investments to areas in difficulty, and I am delighted to see clear improvements in many parts of the region compared to previous years. “

To determine the economic status of each of the 420 counties in the region, the ARC applies a composite index formula based on the latest available data on market income per capita combined with the three-year average unemployment rate and five-year poverty rate. With this data, each county is classified into one of five economic designations.

Analysis of the Composite Index value also showed these changes between county economic status designations for fiscal 2020 compared to county economic status designations for fiscal 2019:

  • Per capita market income has increased both in the Appalachians and across the country. However, the nation as a whole grew 0.2 percentage points more, widening the income gap between Appalachians and the nation.
  • Poverty rates in Appalachia and the country as a whole fell by 0.4 percentage points and 0.5 percentage points respectively. This continued to widen the gap between the Appalachian poverty rate (16.3%) and the national rate (14.6%).
  • The three-year average unemployment rate fell at the same rate (0.6%) in the Appalachians and the rest of the country.

Data tables, a source methodology and a link to an interactive mapping tool presenting the economic situation of each Appalachian county are available at

The ARC has published index-based county economic status designations annually since 2007, primarily to help the 13 states in the region develop economic investment strategies for the coming year. In fiscal 2018, 279 projects totaling 64% of ARC investment dollars had a direct impact on struggling counties. ARC is currently in fiscal year 2019, which ends September 30, 2019. ARC County’s economic status designations for fiscal 2020 will be effective from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020 for investment purposes.