Each year the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) updates designation labels for each of its 420 counties based on economic average data from previous years.
For the Fiscal Year 2020, which begins in October, the ARC used a three-year unemployment average from 2014-16, the per capita market income from 2016 and the poverty rate in each county from 2012-16 to categorize counties as distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive or at attainment.
While the data used to categorize the counties may be from the past, the designations matter in the now.
Counties that win ARC funding from programs and projects receive a percentage of the total cost based on their status, with distressed counties receiving 80 percent, at-risk counties receiving 70 percent and transitional counties receiving 50 percent.
Of the ARC's 420 counties, 80 were labeled distressed, 110 at-risk, 217 as transitional, 10 as competitive and three as attainment.
According to the ARC, FY 2020 will feature the fewest distressed county count since 2008.
While the region is improving as a whole, the major coal-producing areas are going in the opposite direction.
According to the ARC, 18 counties will see a downgrade in the designations, with the changes primarily seen in coal-impacted counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
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In West Virginia, 16 of the state's 55 counties were labeled distressed, 14 were labeled at-risk, 24 were labeled transitional and one, Jefferson County was labeled competitive.
Along with counties, the ARC also reserves the right to label certain census tracts as distressed inside counties which have a higher rating.
In The Register-Herald's distribution area, three counties — Fayette, Nicholas and Wyoming — were labeled as distressed.
While Nicholas County was demoted from at-risk in 2019 to distressed in the upcoming fiscal year, Summers County saw its label improve to at-risk from distressed.
Along with Summers County, Raleigh and Monroe counties were also labeled as at-risk.
Greenbrier County was labeled transitional, with one of its census tracts, Tract 9502 in the area of Rupert and Quinwood, being labeled distressed.
Summers County had one distressed area, Census Tract Five, a large area covering Sandstone, Green Sulphur Springs and the fringe eastern and northern boundaries of the City of Hinton.
While maintaining its at-risk categorization, Raleigh County saw its census areas designated as distressed grow from three to five.
Those areas were Census Tract 10.02, in and around Sophia; Census Tract Two, around the southern portions of Beckley; Census Tract Four, around the northeastern portions of Beckley; Census Tract 13, around the Harper area of the county; and Census Tract 12, the northwestern reaches of the county.
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