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Ky. unemployment remains low, workforce challenges continue

Becca Schimmel

People looking for jobs in Kentucky are finding them. That’s according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Nationwide stats from May show the unemployment rate is as low as it was when the pandemic began. But the percentage of Americans in the labor force is smaller than it was before.

On Friday, the BLS reported that the national unemployment rate in May was 3.6%. It’s held at that mark since March. The rate is about the same as it was in Feb 2020, right before the pandemic began.

The most recent data from Louisville and Kentucky show historic lows.

The city metro’s unadjusted April unemployment rate at 2.7% was the lowest of any April since BLS began gathering that data in 1990. The state’s adjusted rate at 3.9% was the lowest of any month ever recorded, starting in 1976.

The BLS adjusts national and statewide data based on seasonal changes in the labor market, but does not do so for cities. In Louisville, the unemployment rate in April is usually lower than in other months during the first half of the year.

While low unemployment rates indicate that most people who are actively looking for work have found jobs, Sarah Ehresman, director of labor market intelligence at the Louisville government agency KentuckianaWorks, says not all sectors and workers are feeling the same impact.

She pointed to the BLS report’s finding that the national unemployment rate was 6.2% for Black Americans, compared to 3.2% for white Americans.

“Even though we’re in this really tight labor market, some of those systematic inequities are still pervasive,” said Ehresman.

Unemployment rates don’t take into account those who have left the labor force. Individuals aged 16 and older who have not sought employment in the past 4 weeks are not part of the labor force according to the BLS, even if they want a job.

The report found the national labor force participation rate in May was 1.1 percentage points lower than in Feb 2020. Kentucky’s rate in April was down half a percentage point since then.

Ehresman says that she expects more people to re-enter the labor force soon.

“When the labor market is this tight, we tend to see wages go up. And we have also seen evidence of that locally. … When wages go up, you tend to bring more people into the labor market,” she said.

Higher wages have contributed to soaring inflation through increased spending. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has indicated that he will consider raising interest rates to combat inflation, even if it increases unemployment rates.

Jacob Munoz
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