Rural News

Jennifer Emerling / There Is More Work To Be Done

Resilience and Recovery: Insights from the July 2022 Eastern Kentucky Flood

A new report from the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank focuses on the 13 counties declared federal disaster areas and examines the flood’s impact on the region’s housing.

Key findings

  • Cost of flood insurance can be prohibitive. The average cost of homeowners insurance and a flood insurance policy could account for around 7 percent of the median household income in the counties impacted by the 2022 eastern Kentucky flood. These policies can be expensive, particularly for low-income households, leading them to go without. Evidence of these difficult decisions can be found in the fact that only 5 percent of damaged homes had flood insurance, and households earning $30,000 or less per year accounted for 60 percent of damaged homes.
  • Floods exacerbate affordable housing shortages. Nearly 9,000 housing units were affected by the flood, with 74 percent of the damage occurring in just four counties (Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, and Perry), comprising 22 percent of their occupied housing units. Research finds that low-income households and renters are more likely to suffer permanent displacement because they often have fewer relocation options and lower-quality housing is more likely to be demolished instead of being rebuilt. These points are particularly relevant in these 13 flood-impacted counties where, in 2021, 37 percent of households, including 55 percent of renters, made less than $25,000 per year.
  • Floods increase population out-migration, which, in turn, impacts the local labor force. In the four hardest hit counties (Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, and Perry), an analysis of United States Postal Service (USPS) Vacancy Data shows that residential vacancies increased by 19 percent from the third to the fourth quarter in 2022. This is in addition to an average population decline of 600 people per year going back to 1984. Fewer residents mean fewer people available to fill jobs.
  • The pre-existing weakness of local labor markets will likely impact housing recovery, particularly due to a lack of available workforce in skilled trades. Prior to the July 2022 flood, the region experienced unemployment rates consistently higher than the national rate. In the region, the construction sector, key to the housing recovery, has declined by 24 percent (1,759 jobs) from its 2001 peak to 2022. Only coal mining and financial activities employment saw greater declines. This shortage of skilled trades workers, such as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, has led to a backlog of people waiting to get their homes repaired or replaced.

For more information and to read the report, visit Resilience and Recovery: Insights from the July 2022 Eastern Kentucky Flood.