Wilkes County will again be grouped with North Carolina’s most economically distressed counties in Tier 1 in 2021-22, which means it’s still eligible for the highest level of certain state financial aid to promote economic development.

The factors used to determine a county’s ranking left Wilkes 29th among the state’s 100 counties in economic distress level, with first being the most and 100th the least distressed. Wilkes was 36th in 2020-21 and 34th in 2019-20.

Under state law, 40 counties are designated Tier 1, 40 are Tier 2 and the other 20 are Tier 3 (least distressed). Wilkes was a Tier 2 county for six years before it was moved to Tier 1 in 2019-20. Wilkes ranked 50th in 2018-19.

Each county is ranked from first to 100th in each of four categories, making the highest possible county rank sum 400 and the lowest four. The categories are adjusted property tax base per capita, percentage population growth, median household income and average monthly jobless rate.

Wilkes rankings

• 35th in adjusted property tax base per capita with $90,091 in 2021-22 and 35th with $83,712 in 2020-21. The statewide property tax base per capita was $123,639 in 2021-22 and $114,013 in 2020-21.

• 28th in population growth in 2021-22 with a 1.56% decrease from July 2017 to July 2020. The statewide population grew 2.73% then. Wilkes was 30th in population growth in the 2020-21 ranking with a 0.29% increase from July 2016 to July 2019.

• 27th in median household income in the 2021-22 ranking, based on $45,250 in 2019. Statewide, the median household income was $53,922 in 2019. Wilkes was 40th in median household income in the 2020-21 ranking, based on $44,080 in 2018.

• 56th in average monthly jobless rate with 4.90% for October 2020 to September 2021. Wilkes was 64th in average monthly jobless rate with 5.99% for the same period the prior year.

Eleven counties will change tiers in 2022, including Watauga and Alexander.

Alexander is shifting from Tier 1 to Tier 2. Alexander’s economic distress rank is 53red. It was 29th in 2021. This shift was largely driven by a change in Alexander’s unemployment rate rank, moving from 34th last year to 85th this year.

Watauga County is shifting from Tier 3 to Tier 2. Watauga’s economic distress rank is 79th. It was 91st in 2021. This shift was largely driven by a change in the county’s population growth rate rank, which moved from 75th last year to 44th this year.

Until recently, counties with populations less than 50,000 and poverty rates averaging at least 19% in the five preceding years, as well as counties with populations less than 12,000, automatically were in Tier 1. A county had to be in Tier 1 at least two years after qualifying. These adjustment factors were dropped before the 2018-18 ranking were calculated.

If there is a tie for the final position as a Tier 1 or Tier 2 county, both counties are placed in the lower tier. North Carolina has used a three-level system for designating county development tiers since 2007.

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