By Lorelei Goff
A report released in February by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Appalachia Then and Now: Examining Changes to the Appalachian Region Since 1965, examines the impact of improved infrastructure, education and job opportunities across the region.
According to the report, Appalachia’s poverty rate dropped from 31 percent to 16.6 percent over the last five decades. The region also made significant economic gains while becoming less dependent on employment in resource-extraction industries, such as coal, and increasing employment in service-related sectors.
Since 1965, the federal economic development agency funded nearly 25,000 investments in professional and technical services, manufacturing, trade and construction industries, resulting in nearly 312,000 added jobs and $10 billion in added earnings in the region, the report found. Funding also included $9 billion in matching funds from other federal, state and local sources.
In education, high school graduation rates are now nearly equal to the nation as a whole. However, the area continues to lag behind in university graduation rates and apprenticeships.
Other improvements include infant mortality rates, availability of potable water and the development of nearly 3,000 miles of highways in the region.
Challenges remain, including the availability and affordability of high-speed internet, and a steady out-migration of young adults seeking employment and opportunities.
“The challenge going forward is to use the Region’s assets: a history of hard work, innovative solutions to complex problems, and strong families and communities to leverage today’s emerging economic opportunities into a diverse and vibrant economic future,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl in a press release.