county economic status

This Appalachian Regional Commission map shows the economic status of Appalachian counties for the upcoming federal fiscal year.

Wise County remained designated as distressed in the Appalachian Regional Commission's most recent rankings of the economic status of the 420 counties that are part of ARC.

This will be the fourth straight year Wise County has been designated as distressed. It had been considered at-risk in 2016 and 2015 and in 2009-12. It improved to transitional in 2013 and 2014 before the gradual decline to distressed in 2017.

Ranked together with Norton as a single unit, Wise County is among 80 counties that will be considered distressed in 2020, ranking among the worst 10 percent of counties in the nation based on a formula drawing from income, unemployment rate and poverty rates.

Joining Wise County with an ARC distressed designation were Dickenson, Buchanan and Lee counties while Russell and Tazewell counties were designated as at-risk.

ARC’s County Economic Status Designations report for fiscal year 2020 was released June 25. It also found that FY 2020 will have the lowest number of designated distressed counties in Appalachia since 2008.

Wise County was listed at-risk in 2008 and 2009.

To determine the economic status of each of the region’s 420 counties across 13 states, the release explains, 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 — distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive and attainment.

Analysis of the composite index value also showed these changes between FY 2020 and FY 2019:

• In Wise County, the three-year average unemployment rate decreased by more than the ARC region as a whole, almost a full percentage point. It dropped from 8.6 percent to 7.7 percent, as compared to 5.4 percent and 4.8 percent in the nation.

• Per capita market income increased in both the region and the nation as a whole, and Wise County followed suit, growing from $17,446 to $19,151, as compared to the U.S. increase from $40,679 to $42,861.

• Poverty rates locally followed the regional trend, dropping from 21.7 percent to 20.5 percent. That's compared to the nation's 15 percent dropping to 14.6 percent.

This continued to widen the gap between the nation's and Appalachia’s poverty rate at 16.3 percent, according to ARC's announcement.

In addition to the 80 distressed counties among the total ARC counties for 2020, the release also identifies that:

• 110 will be considered at-risk, ranking between the worst 10 percent to 25 percent of counties in the nation;

• 217 will be considered transitional, ranking between the worst 25 percent and best 25 percent of counties in the nation;

• 10 counties will be considered competitive, ranking between best 25 percent and best 10 percent; and

• Three counties will be considered attainment, ranking among the best 10 percent of counties in the nation.

According to the release, the 2020 designation also found:

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

• A total of 29 Appalachian counties across eight 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.

“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.”

Data tables, source methodology and a link to an interactive mapping tool featuring the economic status of each Appalachian county is available at

ARC has been issuing index-based County Economic Status Designations on annual basis since 2007, primarily to help the region’s 13 states develop economic investment strategies for the forthcoming year. In FY 2018, 279 projects totaling 64 percent of ARC investment dollars had a direct impact on distressed counties. ARC is currently in FY 2019, which ends Sept. 30, 2019. ARC’s County Economic Status Designations for FY 2020 will be effective Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020, for investment purposes.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region. ARC's mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.