Press Statement

Press Release: New Report Finds Targeted Employment Program Could Boost Income, Improve Quality of Life in Appalachia


July 25, 2022

Contact: Virginia Alvino Young, 714-267-1623, [email protected]


Breaking down barriers to employment could help the region overcome generations of underemployment due to resource extraction

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Appalachians face high rates of joblessness even during periods of low unemployment. But according to a new study, a federal job subsidy program that helps break down barriers to employment could transform the economy in the region. 

“Hard-working Americans are the engine of our economy. We want to do well for ourselves and our families, but too many of us who want to work – especially in Appalachian communities that have been left behind –  are not able to find a job where we live. And when millions of people can’t find jobs, it holds back our entire economy,” said report co-author Ted Boettner, Senior Researcher with the Ohio River Valley Institute. “We need a federal program that supports working people and businesses – by helping to create good-paying jobs and covering some or all the wages of new hires.”

 “Targeted Employment: Reconnecting Appalachia’s Disconnected Workforce” is a new report from ReImagine Appalachia, the Keystone Research Center, and the Ohio River Valley Institute. It examines how to reverse structural problems in the region to build an economy that respects all working people – displaced workers, returning citizens, and people with disabilities. 

Appalachia has endured high rates of poverty, below average economic growth, and low labor force participation rates for generations, due largely to its history of resource extraction and exploitation, the collapse of the steel and coal industry and resultant employment loss, and the region’s lack of economic diversity and redevelopment.  By improving the skills and experience of potential workers to meet current employer demands in their local labor market – and connecting them with a job, thousands of Appalachians could see their household incomes and quality of life improve. 

“We don’t just need more jobs, we need more jobs that boost the economy — by paying people enough to support their families and contribute back to their communities,” said report co-author Claire Kovach, Senior Research Analyst with the Keystone Research Center. “A federal jobs program catered to Appalachia’s unique history and needs could address historic labor force disconnection by leveraging current government resources and programs, and tactfully building new ones. Accessible pathways to employment could also help grow self-esteem and a source of identity, making people feel more connected to their communities.”

The report finds that the prime-age (25-54 year old) employment-to-population ratio — the “gold standard” for evaluating labor force health — of Appalachian Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia is more than four percentage points lower than the US average, highlighting an acute need for policy assistance. The report also finds that:

  • If Appalachia’s share of prime working age employment matched the national average, an estimated 206,000 additional people would be employed, resulting in over $6.4 billion in additional wages, the report finds.  
  • In Appalachian Kentucky, 34 of every 100 prime-age men are not employed. In West Virginia (all of it in Appalachia), and in Appalachian Ohio and Pennsylvania, 27, 23, and 19 out of every 100 prime-age men, respectively, are not employed. Nationally, 17 out of every 100 prime-age men are not employed.

In 16 out of 193 Appalachian counties in these states, less than half of prime-age men are employed. (A map in the report provides the prime-age employment rate for each of these 193 counties.)

View and download the report at Report_Targeted-Employment.pdf (


Reimagine Appalachia was born out of a broad recognition that the economy has not been working for most people and places in the Ohio River Valley. In response, a diverse set of economic, environmental and community leaders, and grassroots organizations, came together to find common ground and build the future we want to see—a 21st century economy that’s good for workers, communities, and the environment.

The Keystone Research Center was created to broaden public discussion on strategies to achieve a more prosperous and equitable Pennsylvania economy. As a research and policy development organization, the Keystone Research Center conducts original research, produces reports, promotes public dialogue that addresses important economic and civic problems, and proposes new policies to help resolve those problems.

The Ohio River Valley Institute is a think tank focused on the greater Ohio Valley region. Our team of experts produces substantive research on the region’s most pressing issues and delivers them with effective communication strategies. We strive to help the region mark out a path toward shared prosperity, clean energy, and more equitable civic structures.