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Appalachia: Definition and measures of the region's status

Sunday, November 26, 2000

What is Appalachia?

Appalachia, as defined in the legislation from which the Appalachian Regional Commission derives its authority, is a 200,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. It includes all of West Virginia and parts of twelve other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

About 22 million people live in the 406 counties of the Appalachian Region; 42 percent of the region's population is rural, compared with 20 percent of the national population.

The region's economic fortunes were based in the past mostly on extraction of natural resources and manufacturing. The modern economy of the region is gradually diversifying, with a heavier emphasis on services and widespread development of tourism, especially in more remote areas where there is no other viable industry.

Coal remains an important resource, but it is not a major provider of jobs. Manufacturing is still an economic mainstay but is no longer concentrated in a few major industries.

- Appalachian Regional Commission.

What is a distressed county?

The Appalachian Regional Commission uses a four-rung system to measure counties' needs.

Distressed: "Distressed" means poverty and unemployment rates outpace the national average 11/2 times, and per capita income falls two-thirds below the national average.

Transition: A step up from distressed, a county is in "transition" if it is at or above the national average in any one of these measures.

Competitive: Counties become "competitive" when they are at or above the national average in two of the three criteria.

Attainment: Counties, like Allegheny, have reached "attainment" when they are at or above the national average in all three criteria.

Find more on the Web

The Appalachian Regional Commission site, featuring Appalachia Magazine and official reports, can be found at:

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