New DIVER Geo Scores and the Diverging Economies of the Appalachian States

Categories: Commentary |

June 1, 2015

This week we review our proprietary DIVER Geo Score, highlight the strongest and weakest States as well as provide you a link to get the scores themselves. We also focus on the divergent economies of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

May Geo Scores

Last week, we released the most recent DIVER Geo Scores for States, counties and cities. The DIVER Geo Score represents a relative score of the economic health of a U.S. State, county or city. Based on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the best, this data is updated monthly and is calculated from multiple economic and demographic factors related to three primary data categories—employment, income and housing.

The DIVER Geo Scores are available here.

may15 geo score

Other than some small shuffling of rankings, there were no changes in the tally of top ten strongest or bottom ten weakest States this month.

Appalachian State Economies are Diverging

Notable in the weakest states are shifts over the last year in the ranking of the neighboring States of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.  Kentucky’s Geo Score is stronger by 1.7 points whereas Tennessee’s Geo Score is weaker by 1 point and West Virginia’s Geo Score is weaker by 1.9 points.

A key differentiator among these three Appalachian States is the progress of their employment markets.

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In the last 2 years, Kentucky’s unemployment rate has improved by 2.9% points; Tennessee by 2.3% points, while West Virginia’s rate has increased by .6% points.  The U.S. unemployment rate during that period dropped by 2.0% points.

Over half of the improvement in Kentucky’s unemployment rate is due to improvement in its two largest counties by population:  Jefferson and Fayette.

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Some of the smaller eastern Kentucky counties have shown improvement, but unemployment rates there are still high.  For instance, over the last year, the unemployment rate in Harlan County has declined from 16.4% to 10.7%.

While Kentucky’s employment market is stronger than Tennessee’s, this hasn’t flowed through to its housing market.  During the last year, housing prices in Kentucky have improved by 4.1%, trailing Tennessee’s, which was better by +5.4%.

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Because publication of income statistics are somewhat lagged, it is too early to tell if the improvement in Kentucky’s employment picture is flowing through to wages.

According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kentucky ranks 41st in the nation in average weekly wages; Tennessee is 29th and West Virginia is 43rd.

Have a great week, 

Michael Craft, CFA

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