Report: Kentucky lags nation in job seekers amid economic recovery

18 May 2020 - Jason Thomas (Louisville Business First)

Kentucky’s economy continues to operate below pre-pandemic levels as employers struggle to fill open positions across the commonwealth.

That’s the takeaway from a recently released Kentucky Chamber of Commerce report.

“Kentucky’s Economic Recovery: A Quarterly Update of Workforce, Employment, State GDP, and Exports,” a partnership with the chamber and the University of Kentucky Center for Business and Economic Research, aims to take a deep dive into the commonwealth's economy as it works to rebuild, recover and get citizens back to work, according to a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce news release.

The goal of these regular, quarterly reports will be to inform the public, provide economic trends to business leaders as they make decisions and prepare lawmakers as they shape policy essential to the state’s economic recovery, the release stated.

“Things are looking much different today. Almost 2 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, restrictions are being phased out, and our positivity rate is down to just above 3 percent. This is welcome news for all Kentuckians as we continue the hard work of getting life back to ‘normal’ and rebuilding our economy,” Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts said in the release.

“Workforce will be critical not only to our economic recovery but also to the Commonwealth’s competitiveness in the post-pandemic economy. I want to encourage policymakers to uses these reports to implement policies that support economic growth and workforce development.”

Highlights of the report include:

  • Employment in Kentucky grew in the first quarter of 2021 but still remains below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Kentucky’s gross domestic product continued to grow in the final quarter of 2020.
  • The gap between Kentucky’s labor force participation (LFP) rate and the national rate is almost a full point wider than it was before the pandemic.
  • Kentucky’s housing market continues to follow national and regional trends with fewer listings, faster sales and higher prices.

Kentucky’s LFP rate is typically lower than the nation’s rate, but the pandemic widened the gap, according to the report. In 2019, Kentucky’s rate was 3.9 percentage points lower on average than the U.S. rate. In March, the gap was 4.8 percentage points. The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older that is working or actively looking for work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The difference in LFP rates suggests that a larger share of workers who lost jobs during the recession are not looking for work in Kentucky compared to the rest of the nation,” the report states. “These individuals might not be looking for work for several reasons including lack of child-care, health and safety concerns, and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits.”

Click here to read the full report.