An Assessment of Alternative Measures for Determining Economically Distressed Counties and Areas in the Appalachian Region

This report responds to a proactive effort by the ARC to explore new avenues for assessing wellbeing. Despite well-recognized advances, chronic socioeconomic distress persists in various pockets in the region while other areas face increasing instability stemming from population shifts and global economic changes. The ARC has sought to develop meaningful indicators to document distress, with the goal of improving the ability of the federal office of the ARC and its state partners to target resources effectively to counties facing a diversity of barriers to achieving economic progress.

The purpose of this report is to offer additional insights on the set of distress indicators and their respective measures that can prove comprehensive, practical, and valuable in guiding the future work of the ARC. Our report takes a fresh look at the current indicators employed by the ARC to classify counties as economically distressed. We outline the strengths and limitations associated with such indicators and evaluate a series of new indices and data sources that may promote greater accuracy in terms of monitoring the long-term socioeconomic complexion of counties in the region. These new indicators include “forward-looking” measures as well as indicators that tap a wider range of socioeconomic dimensions of distress, beyond the standard economic indices conventionally employed by the ARC.