The number of distressed counties in the state has reduced to eight, the fewest in Tennessee history, marking a significant milestone in the state’s mission to accelerate the transformation of rural Tennessee.
Each year, the Appalachian Regional Commission prepares an index of county economic status for every county in the United States. Economic status designations are identified through a composite measure of each county’s three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate. Based on these indicators, each county is categorized as distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment.
For Fiscal Year 2024, White County was listed as Transitional in the index along with DeKalb, Putnam, and Cumberland counties. Neighboring counties to the south did not fare as well. Warren and Van Buren were listed as At-Risk, with Bledsoe qualifying as Distressed. White County was listed as Distressed most recently in Fiscal Year 2016 and moved from At-Risk to Transitional in Fiscal Year 2022. White County has dropped in ranking the last two Fiscal Years and only ranked nine counties above Macon County, Tennessee’s highest-ranking At-Risk County. Van Buren County moved from Distressed to At-Risk in Fiscal Year 2020 but has been trending toward returning to Distressed in the last four years.
Williamson County was the only Tennessee County to rank in the Attainment category, with seven counties ranking as Competitive. Joining the eight counties that ranked as distressed were 27 counties ranked as At-Risk. Williamson County ranked third out of 3,113 counties in the U.S., with Lake County being Tennessee’s lowest ranking county at 3,070: Bledsoe ranked at 2,919, Van Buren at 2,799, Warren at 2,608, and White at 2,335. Putnam County, listed as Transitional since the index started in 2007, was ranked 1,772 and mainly outscored White County in Per Capita Market Income at $33,549 to White County’s $25,058. White County’s poverty rate has been steady between 14 percent and 16 percent, while the three-year-average unemployment rate has been about 5 percent.
“Elevating rural Tennessee is one of our top priorities, and by providing a pro-business climate for Tennessee companies to succeed, they are, in turn, providing high-quality job opportunities for citizens across the state,” said Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart McWhorter.
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