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Most Kentucky Counties Have Fewer People With Jobs Than in 2007

Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building
Henryk Sadura
Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building

The unemployment rates in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties declined from March 2014 to March 2015, but only a few actually saw an increase in employment over the past few years.

Only 28 Kentucky counties have more people employed in March 2015 than in March 2007, according to a recent analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Job growth has been concentrated in parts of Kentucky with industries that have enjoyed recoveries in the wake of the recession—namely, healthcare, education and the auto industry, said Jason Bailey, the executive director of KCEP.

“We have a very uneven recovery, a recovery where wealthy parts of the state, places that have more infrastructure, more connections to industries that are growing and recovering are seeing job growth,” Bailey said.

Scott County, near Lexington, saw the largest growth with a 16 percent increase in the number of people employed.

Large swaths of the state have far fewer people employed in 2015 than they did in 2007, before the recession hit.

Areas that have historically depended on coal and some forms of manufacturing have continued to lose jobs. Twenty-four counties have at least 20 percent fewer people employed, many of them in eastern Kentucky.

Pike County saw a 20 percent drop in employment—a decrease of 4,683 employed people. Boyd County had a 21 percent drop and decrease of 4,474 employed.

The unemployment rate has still gone down in these counties because of how the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the unemployment rate, which is: the number of people who have been unemployed 15 weeks or longer within the civilian labor force.

The labor force doesn’t include people who have stopped looking for jobs.

With that, the state’s 5.1 percent unemployment rate overstates how good the job situation is in Kentucky because the state hasn’t seen a growth in wages yet, Bailey said. Employers can easily hire those would-be workers without having to compete for people who already have a job.

“There’s still these surplus, these missing workers who would like to work but are not actively in search of a job,” Bailey said.

Here’s a map of which counties lost and gained jobs.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.