Kentucky’s critical workforce shortage was the focus of comments from the Kentucky Chamber to legislators at the State Fair during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment.
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts told lawmakers Kentucky has too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, for every open job in America there are 0.9 unemployed individuals looking for work. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s labor force remains more than 90,000 workers below pre-pandemic levels.
This helps explain some of the severe hiring challenges faced by Kentucky employers, but the Commonwealth’s workforce problems have been mounting for years.
The Chamber is preparing a workforce report examining the data and history of Kentucky’s workforce challenges and providing potential solutions.
“The General Assembly has taken great strides in recent legislative sessions to address many of Kentucky’s workforce challenges. But, as our report will make clear, much more remains to be done,” said Watts. “Until we fully address the root causes of this problem and start reversing long-term trends, Kentucky will never be able to live up to its full economic potential. On the other side of that coin, however, if we can meet these challenges and build the workforce that Kentucky needs, the Commonwealth could truly become an economic powerhouse with which few other states could ever hope to compete.”
Part of Kentucky’s more recent workforce challenges have been driven by the additional $300 per week in unemployment insurance benefits that has been paid out by the federal government. Watts noted that the extra money runs out at the end of the month and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has said Kentucky will not extend those benefits even if the federal government re-ups the program.
As the state and nation begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Watts said the goal of the report is to reframe this important conversation to show the trends and multiple causes for the shortage as well as create a stronger sense of urgency to solve the problem.
Kentucky Chamber Senior Policy Analyst Dr. Charles Aull said the state’s workforce participation has been in decline for 20 years and Kentucky is currently 48th in the nation for workforce participation.
“The percentage of Kentucky adults who participate in the workforce has been in a state of decline for two decades,” said Aull. “This is part of a national trend, but it is worse here in Kentucky. In fact, it is worse here than almost anywhere else in the nation.”
The report, Aull said, goes into detail on many fronts but most metrics tell the same story of declining participation rates and Kentucky’s long history of consistently trailing the nation and most neighboring states in the percentage of the adult population that participates in the workforce.
Recommendations in the report, he said, show access to childcare, substance use disorder, closing skills gaps, population growth, and others are areas Kentucky actually can address to make progress and ensure communities across the state are all be better off.