Tiny House and Keys

The Great Recession Occurred Twelve Years Ago. In Appalachia, it Never Really Ended.

Advocacy, Economic Opportunity, Research | January 6, 2020

Today’s Blog post was written by Andy Hatem who is Fahe’s Advocacy Intern.

A study by the Appalachian Regional Commission highlights the uneven benefits of the US’ recovery from the 2007-2009 recession. Since the Great Recession, superstar cities like New York and San Francisco have enjoyed breakneck growth, powered by investments in education and infrastructure and booming tech and finance industries. At the same time, large swaths of the country have seen little investment or growth over the past decade.

Appalachia has generally been in the latter group. Here, the impacts of the recession hit harder and lasted longer than in cities that quickly rebounded. The recession wiped out eight years of job growth in Appalachia almost overnight; between 2007 and 2012, the region lost more jobs than the rest of the US combined. As the national economy has recovered and embarked on a record-breaking streak of job growth. Appalachia continues to play catch-up. Between 2012 and 2017, as the US economy added 17 million jobs, job growth in Appalachia was half the national rate.

Even within Appalachia, the effects of the economic recovery have been uneven. Southern Appalachia, which spans northern parts of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, has led the way – adding 10% to its total jobs between 2012 and 2017. The rest of the region has lagged behind nationwide growth. South Central Appalachia (which comprises parts of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia) grew its supply of jobs by 7%. Northern Appalachia (comprising parts of eastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York) saw growth of just over 1%. And Central and North Central Appalachia (dominated by Kentucky and West Virginia/southern Ohio, respectively) continued to bleed jobs from 2012 and 2017. For context, the national economy saw a job growth rate of 10% over that same period.

The impact of the recession has been most pronounced in Central Appalachia; the region lost more jobs between 2012 and 2017 than it did during the worst of the Great Recession, while the rest of the nation was recovering. Jobs in coal, gas, and mining have been steadily dropping through the 2010s across Appalachia – falling by 17% between 2012 and 2017. The effects were even more drastic in Appalachian Kentucky and Virginia; two in five jobs in these sectors have been eliminated since 2012.

Along with these challenges, the ARC report points to a path forward for Appalachia. Sectors like health care, professional services, and tourism make up an increasing share of the economy, and have the potential to power job growth as the region moves away from an over reliance on extractive industries. However, generating and sustaining growth in these areas will take significant investments, both public and private – and both efforts so far have been lacking.

As the national economy enters its 11th year of job growth and the stock market reaches record highs, the US is generating more wealth than ever before. But years of underinvestment have kept vast swaths of the country from sharing in the benefits of this prosperity. Appalachia and places like it have been left behind, putting a decent and stable livelihood out of reach for too many people. Deliberate and sustained investments in Appalachia can change this – but only if our leaders make areas facing job losses and persistent poverty a priority. Our country has bet on people before – trusting that, with the right public investments and support, Americans can build stronger, more prosperous communities. Every time we’ve done so, it has paid off. It’s time to double down on Americans shut out of the recovery and the places they call home.