Kentucky’s Economy Shows Mixed Signals Amidst National Challenges
Recent data on Kentucky’s economy suggests a combination of both economic cooling and continued growth. These signals come as the nation faces significant challenges, including a major labor strike in the manufacturing sector and the potential shutdown of the federal government. While Kentucky is better equipped to confront a possible economic slowdown compared to the past, it is crucial for business leaders and policymakers to closely monitor economic data.
Data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals a rise in unemployment and a decline in job openings in Kentucky. In July 2023, job openings dropped to 112,000, the lowest level since December 2020. Throughout the economic recovery, job openings remained high, peaking at over 200,000 in March 2022, with an average of about 150,000 job openings per month. However, since 2021, the number of job openings has exceeded the number of unemployed individuals looking for jobs in Kentucky. This ratio has been decreasing in 2023, with 1.4 open jobs for every unemployed worker in July. While the job market remains tight for employers, this ratio may be normalizing after a historically tight labor market in 2021 and 2022.
Unemployment rates in Kentucky also show a similar trend. In February 2022, the state achieved an all-time low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, which slightly increased to 4.0 percent in August 2023. Despite this uptick, unemployment in Kentucky remains relatively low compared to previous years.
Other important metrics to consider are the workforce participation rate and the employment rate. Kentucky’s workforce participation rate stands at 57.6 percent, which is 1.4 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels in August 2019. The employment rate in August 2023 was 55.3 percent, also lower than the rate in August 2019.
These economic indicators, including job openings, unemployment, and workforce participation, are derived from monthly government surveys and should be treated as preliminary data subject to revisions.
The recent decrease in job openings and increase in unemployment may be attributed to rising interest rates. The Federal Reserve Bank has been gradually raising interest rates in an effort to combat inflation. However, such actions tend to reduce economic activity and business investment, leading to lower inflation levels and increased unemployment. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell aims to achieve a “soft landing” where inflation cools while the economy continues to grow and add jobs.
Despite the mixed signals from job openings and unemployment, Kentucky employers have continued to add new payroll positions, surpassing 2 million nonfarm payroll positions for the first time in the state’s history in March 2023. Kentucky’s state revenue data also demonstrates signs of continued economic growth, with state receipts, including sales taxes, business taxes, and property taxes, rising 7.7 percent year-over-year.
However, these mixed signals in Kentucky’s economy come amidst two major national challenges. The labor strike initiated by the United Auto Workers against Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, as well as the anticipated shutdown of the federal government due to Congress’s inability to pass necessary legislation, will have negative impacts on the national economy, including Kentucky. Additionally, rising interest rates and the conflict between Ukraine and Russia will continue to affect the global, national, and state economies.
Kentucky is better positioned than in the past to navigate these economic challenges, with a healthy Budget Reserve Trust Fund of $3.7 billion and an Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund close to $850 million. The state has also become more economically competitive due to major policy changes such as tax reform.
Nevertheless, it remains crucial for business leaders and policymakers to closely monitor state and national economic data amidst these ongoing events. The Kentucky Chamber Center for Policy and Research will provide regular updates through The Bottom Line to keep stakeholders informed.