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Report from Ky. Chamber of Commerce highlights workforce crisis in the commonwealth

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 5:55 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - A workforce in crisis— that’s how the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce describes issues facing the commonwealth.

A new report found more than 90,000 people need to go back to work to get Kentucky to pre-pandemic levels.

Even though Kentucky trailed the national average when it came to our workforce, we were making progress.

“We had actually gotten to 40th in the nation in terms of workforce participation rate. Which is the number of able-bodied people ages 18 to 65 that are showing up into the workforce,” said Ashli Watts, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Watts told us COVID derailed that plan. We are now 48th in the nation, only ahead of West Virginia and Mississippi.

“It says we have a lot of people that have left the workforce that have not re-entered the workforce. For example, since March of 2020 we had about 100,000 people leave the workforce and not come back,” Watts said.

A report they released today, “20 years in the making: Kentucky’s workforce crisis,” suggests the pandemic has only magnified issues that have existed since the year 2000.

They list multiple causes including baby boomers retiring at an accelerated rate, lack of access to childcare, and the state’s poor ranking when it comes to health. Diabetes alone is believed to reduce employment in Kentucky by 15,700 workers.

But, they say there are steps the state can take to reverse course.

Those including making sure financial aid programs are going to jobs that are in demand, ensuring people have access to treatment for substance use disorders, and avoiding legislation that could be seen as unwelcoming or intolerant.

Watts said recent events show big companies can be enticed to come to Kentucky.

“It’s not a coincidence that there will now be two Ford plants on the 65 corridor. It’s not a coincidence the GM is located on the 65 corridor, that UPS. Or that Toyota and Amazon are on I-75. If you build it, they will come,” Watt said.

They also suggested raising the gas tax to invest in infrastructure, and more public transportation.

You can find the full report by clicking here.

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