Looking for work - Washington County sees jump in unemployment numbers for March

29 April 2020 - The Springfield Sun

Officially, Washington County saw an increase of greater than 1 percentage point from the previous month in its unemployment rate for March. The increase, from 3.7% to 4.8%, means that approximately 67 more Washington Countians were looking for work in March than in February, according to the official count.

The numbers could be misleading, however, Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority Director Daniel Carney said.

“Due to COVID, the unemployment numbers are probably much higher than reported,” Carney said. “People are not employed but not looking for jobs because they will be going back to the ones they have.”

He said waiving the job search requirement for unemployment benefits due to COVID-19 has “skewed the data a little bit.” The state’s workforce and development cabinet, which tracks unemployment in the state, counts only those actively looking for work.

“The number of unemployed hasn’t seen the change you would expect,” Carney said.

Though the county saw a big increase for March from February, March’s rate is just .3% greater than the 4.5% rate for March of 2019.

 Nearly every county in Kentucky saw in increase in unemployment for March from February, and from March 2019 to March 2020.

Unemployment rates rose in 117 Kentucky counties between March 2019 and March 2020, fell in one (Crittenden County) and stayed the same in two (Owen and Robertson counties, according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS), an agency of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

The lowest jobless rate in the commonwealth was recorded by Oldham County at 4.1 percent. It was followed by Fayette and Shelby counties, 4.4 percent each; Boone, Marion, Spencer and Woodford counties, 4.5 percent each. Washington County recorded 4.8 percent, according to data released by KYSTATS.

Magoffin County recorded the state’s highest unemployment rate at 18.1 percent, followed by Harlan County, 14.5 percent, and Leslie County, 13.5 percent.

The comparable, unadjusted unemployment rate for March for the state was 5.7 percent, and 4.5 percent for the nation.

Employment statistics undergo sharp fluctuations due to seasonal events such as weather changes, harvests, holidays and school openings and closings. Seasonal adjustments eliminate these influences and make it easier to observe statistical trends.

Kentucky’s seasonally adjusted preliminary March 2020 unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, according to the KYSTATS. Kentucky’s county unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted because of the small sample sizes.

The preliminary March jobless rate was up 1.6 percentage points from February and up 1.6 percentage points from the 4.2 percent recorded for the state in March of 2019. The U.S. seasonally adjusted jobless rate for March 2020 was 4.4 percent, up from 3.5 percent in February, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Kentucky civilian labor force was 2,051,009 in March, a decrease of 33,080 individuals from February. The number of people employed in March fell by 62,878, while the number unemployed increased by 29,798. Civilian labor force statistics include non-military workers and unemployed Kentuckians who are actively seeking work. They do not include unemployed Kentuckians who have not looked for employment within the past four weeks.

“Closures caused by the coronavirus contributed to nearly 63,000 fewer people working in March than in February,” said University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) Interim Director Mike Clark, Ph.D. “The data suggests that approximately half of these individuals appeared to still be looking for work, while half left the labor force. However, there may have been some confusion among respondents who temporarily lost jobs but are likely to be recalled by their employers. While these workers should be classified as unemployed, they were classified as having left the labor force in the March estimates.”

In a separate federal survey that excludes jobs in agriculture and people who are self-employed, Kentucky’s seasonally adjusted non-farm employment decreased by 7,100 jobs in March as compared to February. Kentucky’s non-farm employment was up 1,200 jobs relative to March 2019, for a growth rate of 0.1 percent.

“The employment numbers reflect the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. Since many of the closures occurred later in March, these numbers likely reflect only a portion of the virus’s effect on the economy,” said Clark.

“Leisure and hospitality businesses were the first and hardest hit as numerous events were cancelled and restaurants were closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Clark said.

Unemployment statistics are based on estimates and are compiled to measure trends rather than actually count people working. The data is best compared to the same month in previous years.

“It will be interesting to see the numbers in May,” Clark said. “I anticipate they will be higher.”

Clark said he will continue to watch over the coming months and how the numbers develop. “We hope everything is back up and running pretty soon, but there are a lot of unknowns at this time.”