ARC Releases New Data Indicating Recession Recovery, Key Vulnerabilities in Appalachia Prior to COVID-19

“The Chartbook” features 300K+ data points on Appalachia’s economy, income, employment, education, and more prior to – and during – the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 27, 2022—New data released today by the Appalachian Regional Commission for the 12th annual update of The Appalachian Region: A Data Overview from the 2016-2020 American Community Survey indicates that Appalachia was improving in educational attainment, labor force participation, income levels, and reduced poverty prior to the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. Drawing from the latest American Community Survey and comparable Census Population Estimates available as of 2020, ARC’s report, also known as “The Chartbook”, contains more than 300,000 data points comparing Appalachia’s regional, subregional, state, and county levels with the rest of the nation.

In the four years leading up to COVID-19, Appalachia was improving across a number of indicators, with data suggesting that much of the region had finally recovered from the 2007-2009 recession, though this recovery was slower than most of the nation.

  • Median household income increased nearly 10 percent between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, with 83 Appalachian counties throughout the region experiencing 15 percent increases. 
  • Appalachia’s overall poverty rate (14.7 percent) decreased two percentage points between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020.   
  • Labor force participation (73.8 percent), though lower than the national average, increased by 1.1 percentage points between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020, surpassing the national average increase of 0.8 percentage points.   
  • Bachelor’s degrees among individuals ages 25 and over increased by 2.8 percentage points, helping the region reach a milestone of more than one-quarter (25.4 percent) of residents attaining this level of education. 
  • Southern Appalachia’s population increased nearly 9 percent between 2010 and 2020, which surpassed the nation’s population growth average of 6.5 percent. 

“Each year, The Chartbook provides critical data about the Appalachian Region, enabling policymakers and ARC partners to make data-driven economic development decisions. This particular report, however, may be one of the most critical to date,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “The data now provides both a detailed regional snapshot immediately before COVID-19 and a glimpse of the pandemic’s earliest days. Though it will take years to fully understand COVID’s impact, the data has important implications for our Appalachian friends and neighbors who were already vulnerable – the youngest, oldest, and most rural residents. ARC remains committed to supporting the region’s most at-risk and under-resourced populations in order to strengthen and elevate the economic health of the region in COVID’s wake.”

Despite positive trends, several data points revealed vulnerabilities that may have been exacerbated by the health, social, and economic impacts of COVID-19: 

  • Though regional poverty rates have declined overall, rates have stayed the same or increased in 85 Appalachian counties.  
  • Fewer Appalachian households had a broadband subscription compared to households in non-Appalachian areas. In 26 Appalachian counties, subscriptions were less than 65 percent. This gap in access, even within the region itself, impacts residents’ access to remote work, online learning, telehealth, and more.    
  • Appalachia’s population trends older than the nation as a whole, with individuals ages 65 and over reaching at least 20 percent in 258 Appalachian counties. Additionally, the percentage of Appalachians ages 65 and over with a disability is more than three percentage points higher than the national rate.  
  • The percentage of Appalachian households receiving payments from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was higher (over 13 percent) compared to all U.S. households (over 11 percent), with households in Central Appalachia reaching almost 21 percent.  
  • For households with children under the age of 18, Appalachia’s SNAP participation is higher than the national rate (21 percent compared to 18 percent, respectively).  
  • The percentage of working-age adults (ages 25 to 64) with a bachelor’s degree was 15.8 percent in Central Appalachia and 18.2 percent in rural Appalachian counties, compared to 34.3 percent for the entire U.S. The prevalence of non-college educated workers in these areas likely resulted in less remote work opportunities during the pandemic and could result in greater difficulty finding post-pandemic employment. 

“While some of the data produced through this year’s Chartbook is extremely promising, there is still work to be done in key areas to strengthen the region’s workforce, increase broadband access, and ensure all residents have access to much needed resources,” said ARC’s 2022 States’ Co-Chair Governor Larry Hogan. “The ARC is committed to empowering each of our member states as we work toward achieving further economic growth and recovery. Maryland looks forward to hosting this year’s ARC Annual Conference in October, which will be an incredible opportunity for all of our 13 regional partners to collaborate on key issues that face the Appalachian Region.” 

The data show that Appalachia’s rural areas are not only more vulnerable than urban areas, but the region’s 107 rural counties are also more uniquely challenged compared to 841 similarly designated rural counties across the rest of the country.

  • Rural Appalachian households have reduced access to one or more computers (including smartphones and tablets) compared to non-Appalachian rural households (access rate of 83 percent compared to 88 percent, respectively). Additionally, fewer rural Appalachian households have an internet subscription (74 percent) compared to non-Appalachian rural households (78 percent). 
  • The number of working-age adults (ages 25 to 64) in rural Appalachia with a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree (18 percent) is lower than in non-Appalachian rural areas (nearly 23 percent). 
  • A higher percentage of working-age adults and older adults (ages 65+) in rural Appalachia have a disability (23 percent and 42 percent, respectively) compared to those in the rest of rural America (16 percent and 37 percent respectively). 
  • Rural Appalachian households received SNAP benefits at a higher rate compared to the rest of rural America (17 percent, compared to 13 percent, respectively).  

“It’s too early to assess the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the Appalachian Region, but the data in this year’s Chartbook offer important insights into potential long-term effects of the pandemic, particularly in rural communities,” said Mark Mather, Population Reference Bureau’s acting vice president for U.S. Programs

The Appalachian Region: A Data Overview from the 2016-2020 American Community Survey was authored by the Population Reference Bureau and the Appalachian Regional Commission.  

In addition to the written report, ARC offers companion web pages on Appalachia’s population, employment, education, income and poverty, computer and broadband access, and rural Appalachian counties compared to the rest of rural America’s counties. For more information, visit

About the Appalachian Regional Commission 
The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 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.