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Poverty No Longer Sets Appalachia Apart

July/August 1996

Appalachia is no longer the land of severe poverty that it was three decades ago. When President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1965, one in three Appalachian people were considered impoverished. Now the poverty rate of one in 15 is close to the national average.

The number of adults who have received a high school diploma has also jumped from one out of three to two out of three; and the infant death rate has been cut in half.

Furthermore, Appalachia grew faster than similar areas outside the region according to an NSF-funded study. The study was conducted by researchers at West Virginia University in Morgantown and published in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Study authors Andy Isserman and Terance Rephann developed a new set of control group methods which they applied to the Appalachian study. Comparing the 391 counties in the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) with counties outside the region that were similar to Appalachian counties in the 1960s, the researchers found that Appalachian counties grew significantly faster than their counterparts. Specifically, overall income in Appalachia grew 48 percent faster; per capita income grew 17 percent faster; and population grew five percent faster.

"You just can't call it 'a region apart' anymore," Isserman told the Atlanta Journal/Atlanta Constitution. Isserman is the Director of the Regional Research Institute and a professor of economics and geography.

Since 1965, the 13-state region has received $6.5 billion in special Federal funding. The money, distributed through ARC, has been spent on infrastructure including roads and schools. While the importance and validity of ARC has been debated since its inception in 1965, Isserman's study is the first to perform an empirical analysis of the commission's impact on the region.

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