Unemployment remains high in coal industry downturn
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD — Unemployment rates in Kentucky fell in 101 of the state’s 120 counties, including here in Perry, though local joblessness remains high as the coal industry remains in a downturn due to an ongoing lack of demand.
More than 2,000 jobs have been shed from the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky in the past year, including many here in Perry County, the state’s No. 2 coal producer. In turn, Perry County’s unemployment rate from Oct. 2011 to Oct. 2012 jumped nearly three percentage points, from 9.7 percent to the current 12.4 percent.
From month to month, Perry County’s unemployment rate was a slight decrease from 12.7 percent in September, though the county remains in the bottom 10 in the state for rates of joblessness. The county recorded a rate of 13 percent in August, which was the highest in Perry County since 1995, according to data from the Office of Employment and Training in Frankfort.
Unemployment continues to be a major factor in eastern counties in Kentucky more so than in the rest of the state. Of the 10 counties with the highest rates of joblessness, only one – Fulton County — is not located in the eastern half of the state.
Magoffin County recorded the highest unemployment rate at 15.5 percent in October, while the lowest was recorded in Woodford County in northern Kentucky at 5.6 percent.
Here in the Kentucky River region, which includes Perry, Knott, Letcher, Leslie, Lee, Wolfe, Owsley, and Breathitt counties, no county recorded an unemployment rate in the single digits in October, and every county, with the exception of Owsley, Lee, and Wolfe where coal jobs are not as prevalent, saw significant increases in unemployment from Oct. 2011 to 2012.
Letcher County’s rate of unemployment jumped nearly four points, from 9.6 percent in Oct. 2011 to 13.5 percent in 2012. Knott County also saw an increase in the same time period of three points, from 10.5 in 2011 to 13.5 in 2012. Rates in Breathitt and Leslie counties increased by 1.9 percent each.
Other eastern coal counties are also suffering from high unemployment. Pike, Harlan, and Floyd counties each recorded rates of 9.3, 13.0, and 11.2 respectively, with Floyd County seeing an increase of over three percentage points from Oct. 2011. Harlan’s unemployment rate increase by 2.9 points during the same time period, while Pike’s remained the same, though still well above the state average of 7.8 percent.
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