One recurring topic in my past writings has been the employment picture in western Kentucky. In spite of many public officials “crowing” about Henderson’s job success, their accolades lack context or appropriate benchmarks. Panning out from Henderson, one sees the challenges for the different Kentucky regions. KCEP broke out job growth over 10 years by region:
Regardless of how Henderson’s job growth is described, much of western Kentucky is being left behind. And the recent closure of the Dotiki mine in Webster County is a reminder that the halcyon days of “Coal Country” may be past.
Additionally, agriculture which has been a strong and consistent pillar of western Kentucky’s economic success is also in question. The tariffs and weather have put many farmers at risk of defaulting with some commentators comparing it to the farm crisis of the 1980s.
With both coal and agriculture struggling, western Kentucky’s job picture could get downright bleak if a recession were to occur. The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy went to the trouble of preparing a job growth by county. Because it’s in Tableau, the chart is interactive.
Going forward, there needs to be more attention to the plight of rural, western Kentucky. Much of the political discourse has been a discussion about how well Kentucky is doing. Yet the more accurate statement is that the more urban areas have job growth on par with the U.S. while the rural areas are losing jobs and population at a staggering rate. Eastern Kentucky is certainly worse off, but western Kentucky is doing poorly as well.
Solving the problem begins with acknowledgement that many of Kentucky’s rural areas are not enjoying the success of their urban peers. And in my opinion, so much of today’s angst is rooted in the disparity of economic outcomes between urban and rural America.