Economically distressed Appalachian Ohio showing some improvement

February 11, 2019

ATHENS, Ohio — If the Appalachian region counties in Ohio were combined into a separate state, it would be the second-most economically distressed state in the country. However, that fact doesn’t tell the whole story, according to a recent study.

Over the past decade, the state’s Appalachian counties have experienced more economic improvement on a per capita basis than the rest of the state, the study showed.

Orman Hall, an executive in residence for Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (Alliance), examined data compiled by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for 2009 and 2019. Economic distress, as measured by ARC, is determined by unemployment rate, per capita market income and poverty rate averaged over three years and compared with national averages.

“This study demonstrates that Appalachian Ohio is making progress. People in Appalachia are trying to solve their own problems but they need a renewed focus from state policymakers to solve the endemic problems of poverty confronting our region,” said Rick Hodges, director of the alliance.

In 2009, the state of Ohio was the 32nd healthiest economy in the nation. For 2019, the Buckeye State dropped to 33rd. The 32 counties that make up Appalachian Ohio scored a mean of 142.5 in terms of economic distress in 2009 versus a score of 99.6 for Ohio’s remaining 56 counties (a lower number represents a healthier economy).

For 2019, Appalachian Ohio improved to a mark of 138.6 while the rest of Ohio worsened to 100.7. For comparison, the most economically distressed state is Mississippi at 152.9 in 2009 and 141.8 in 2019. New Hampshire is the United States’ least economically distressed state with scores of 70.8 in 2009 and 68.8 in 2019.

“With important leadership changes in state government, we want to make sure everyone understands that regardless of the modest economic improvements that have occurred, Appalachia remains the most distressed region of our state and policy attention is required to deal with the serious economic conditions that exist in the area,” Hall said. “While West Virginia ranks as one of the poorest states in the Union, in aggregate, its economy is better than the Appalachian portion of Ohio. The difference between Appalachian Ohio and the remainder of the state is shocking.”

In the Tri-State area, Lawrence County showed the most economic improvement, 9 percent over the past decade, while Scioto County improved by 1 percent and Gallia County remained unchanged.

“These results suggest that in 2009, Ohioans living in the Appalachian region were significantly more likely to experience economic distress than Ohioans living in non-Appalachian communities,” said Hall. “An analysis of 2019 distress scores demonstrates that Appalachian communities continue to struggle with significantly greater economic challenges than residents from other Ohio counties. While serious endemic poverty continues to prevail in Appalachia, economic conditions improved throughout the region relative to the remainder of the state.”

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