Keep the faith when it comes to job growth in Kentucky

By Rep. Lew Nicholls - 98th District State Representative



Jobs are a big issue as we near the November elections, especially here at home where county by county unemployment is higher than we want it to be.

We want job growth here at home. We deserve it. And we have a right to be frustrated, and maybe a little angry, when our communities hit roadblock after roadblock as we travel the road to economic recovery. I hope our communities will be able to work openly and fairly with the Bevin administration to remove the obstacles that are in our way so we can move forward.

It’s hard to see it here at home, maybe, but our nation is pulling out of the Great Recession that nearly decimated the U.S. economy eight years ago. A national unemployment rate that reached 8 and 9 percent by mid 2009 fell to five percent by Dec. 2015. It remains around five percent today.

You don’t have a national unemployment rate of five percent without net job growth like the U.S. has experienced this year. We have added 178,000 new jobs on average per month so far this year according to U.S. Labor Department. A total of 156,000 jobs were added in September nationally in professional and businesses services like consulting and administrative support and in health care. Gains were also made in food service and retail.

Less job growth was recorded in the mining, construction, manufacturing and transportation, government and wholesale trade industries which had little growth, if any. Some have spun that lack of growth as job losses this Presidential election year, but that’s spin for you. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency that tracks the nation’s employment numbers, says employment in those sectors was “unchanged” or “changed little” throughout September. No job losses were reported.

Sometimes I think we need to step back and see the bigger picture when it comes to the national economy and our place in it. Job growth is always possible, and should be expected. But it is also gradual. Too gradual for our liking, usually, but gradual. We must work with state leaders, like the Governor, to recruit and maintain industry.

We must also be realistic. There has never been 100 percent employment in the U.S., per federal data, and I doubt there every will be. The lowest national unemployment rate ever recorded in the U.S. was 1.4 percent during World War I and that was largely due to hiring for wartime manufacturing. Before the war, the national unemployment rate was almost 8 percent. Between 1948 and 2015, it averaged around 5.8 percent.

For those of us with counties where unemployment sits at about eight or nine percent, I’m sure that hearing about rates of 5 percent and 5.8 percent is not exactly fun. But I believe we can get there, if we try. We won’t get there if we don’t.

I think looking at where we stand economically by U.S. region may give us some hope. Regional markets impact state economies, which impact county economies. So, just where are we according to the latest BLS statistics? A news release on regional and state employment for August 2016 released by the BLS at the end of September says that among the nine U.S. geographic divisions tracked by BLS, the Pacific had the highest unemployment rate at 5.4 percent while the East South Central region, which includes Kentucky, had a 0.8 percent decline in its unemployment from the year before—what the BLS called that a “significant” decline in unemployment.

Looking just at Kentucky, we also have reason to be optimistic. Things are literally on the upswing if you look at BLS charts on statewide labor force and employment statistics for 2014 to date. Kentucky had a slump in employment between January 2014 and October 2015, but then things turned around. Employment statewide increased by nearly 40,000 between November 2015 and May of this year, leveling off a bit over the summer. Now it is on the rise again.

So, let’s not take too bad a view of how things are in Kentucky and in the U.S. The jobs are out there. Employers are in our region, even in our state—we just need to bring them here. We need all hands on deck, so to speak, to make that happen, from the Governor’s Office on down.

We can do it. I know we can.

I’ll talk to you soon.


By Rep. Lew Nicholls

98th District State Representative