Kentucky leads nation in workforce participation decline

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Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 2:21 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Workforce participation has been declining nationally for 20 years, but Kentucky leads the pack.

According to a report released by the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, Kentucky is far ahead of the nationwide downward trend in workforce participation.

“The magnitude of the problem that we’re dealing with is so significant that we really want all Kentuckians understanding that we’re dealing with a serious problem here,” said Dr. Charles Aull, the Senior Policy Analyst at The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and author of this report.

Kentucky is also behind all neighboring states except West Virginia.

”You can take a look at states like Missouri, Indiana, for example, gaps are pretty significant. If you take a look at states that are in, say, the top 10 for workforce participation rate throughout the nation then you get into double digit gaps,” said Dr. Aull.

The report says this decline is likely due to the following:

  • Incarceration
  • Substance abuse
  • Childcare costs
  • Lack of transportation
  • Skills gap
  • Poor health outcomes
  • Retirement boom
  • Government assistance programs
  • Slow population growth

The Bureau of Labor says the workforce participation rate is people who are working, or are actively looking for work. People old enough to work, but not looking, are not counted in statistics. Active-duty military and institutionalized individuals are excluded.

Out of the country’s 50 states, Kentucky ranks 48th in workforce participation. Boone County leads the state with 70.1% and Elliot county has the lowest rate at 27.6%.

Some proposed solutions are immigration reform, tax reform, skills training, criminal justice reform and more funding for the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Aull and members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce hope to tackle some of those topics through legislation during the legislative session.

”We know that folks in the General Assembly have a lot of interest in tackling this issue so we provided them not so much with a menu of options, but more of here’s everything that needs to be done,” said Dr. Aull.

It may takes years for the effect of some legislation to be felt, but the authors of this report believe it is a problem that needs attention today.

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