Last week's newspaper headlines grabbed people’s attention by announcing that Kentucky’s unemployment rate had dropped to 5 percent for the first time in 14 years.
While I always try to be optimistic, the reality is that there is still more cause for concern than celebration when it comes to the Commonwealth’s full economic condition.
There are two kinds of people in the labor force: those already employed and those actively seeking employment. An article by the Associated Press covering the story reported, “Kentucky’s civilian labor force lost 11,369 people in September. Employment was down by more than 7,800. But the number of unemployed also decreased by more than 3,500.”
The article went on to quote an economist with the Office of Employment and Training, who noted that “Kentucky’s labor force is shrinking as the state has a larger proportion of retirement-aged people than the national average.”
Many conversations and social media posts selectively focused on the drop in unemployment while glossing over the other important and concerning points:
In the period between 2010 and 2013, the Commonwealth’s workforce fell by .2 percent annually. In 2014 our workforce fell by 2.3 percent, a tenfold increase from the prior years of the Great Recession.
Even if this drop was solely the result of people retiring, the concern remains: Kentucky is losing workers.
Additionally, more and more individuals are working part-time. While there are no figures for Kentucky individually, we know that nationwide in 2014 there were 27 million part-time workers, up from 23 million in 2003. There is no indication that Kentucky is any different. Instead of working one adequate paying job, a large number of Kentuckians have to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet.
After taking a deeper look into Kentucky’s unemployment figures, it is clear that we are in no position to celebrate. Focusing on only part of the story won’t help the situation or our Commonwealth.
We must continue to work hard to attract more and better-paying jobs and to train and keep a well-qualified workforce.
# # #Senator Wil Schroder represents District 24 comprised of Bracken, Campbell, and Pendleton Counties. He is Chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary, Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and a member of the Appropriations and Revenue and the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committees.