Commentary: Kentucky has 15,000 more open jobs than people looking for work

Jordan Harris

By Jordan Harris
Pegasus Institute

The U.S. economy is in the midst of one the longest growth periods in the post-war era creating a unique circumstance in the labor market. The United States, for the first time since the data has been tracked, has more job openings than individuals looking for work. In fact, according to the Labor Department, despite dipping in the last few months of 2018, there were approximately one million more job openings in the United States than individuals looking in March.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTs) was released on Tuesday providing an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the national numbers and Kentucky’s standing.

 A few notable points:

• Job openings reached a post-recession low in July of 2009, so we are nearing the 10-year mark, and returned to pre-recession levels in April of 2014. Since then, they have continued to grow. As of March 2019 there were approximately 7.5 million job openings in the United States. As of March 2019 there were 5.7 million hires. This was a gap of 1.8 million fewer hires than job openings.

• Individuals quitting their jobs has increased steadily since August of 2009, with 3.4 million quitting a job in March. This is an excellent sign for the economy. Quits indicate workers are leaving for better, often higher paying, jobs.

• As of the final day of March 2019. the ratio of unemployed persons per job opening was 0.8.

This has created an interesting labor market in Kentucky. A snapshot of the end of 2018, the most recent available data, shows that Kentucky is on trend having more job openings than individuals looking for a job. At the end of 2018, there were just under 15,000 more open jobs than people looking. If the state has followed national trends during the first two quarters of this year that number will have grown even higher the next time state data becomes available.

Comparing Kentucky Center for Statistics data with Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the most interesting story is the misallocation of labor that Kentucky is dealing with, another trend not dissimilar from national numbers. With Kentucky’s relatively large rural population, one of the highest percentage of population in the US, this is particularly significant.

Half of Kentucky’s 10 regions had a surplus of job openings at the end of 2018. The Northern Kentucky region, which covers eight counties including Boone, Kenton, and Campbell, had the greatest surplus with more than 10,000 job openings than the total number of individuals searching. The Louisville Metro (Kentuckiana Works Region) area was not far behind, with just over 9,300 more job openings than individuals searching. South Central Kentucky, the Bluegrass Region surrounding Lexington, and the Green River region which includes Owensboro made up the final three surplus regions. Nearly 70% of Kentucky’s open jobs are in these five regions.

In contrast, the other five regions, have nearly 16,000 more people looking for jobs than available job openings. Just over 37% of those individuals (5,924), are in the Eastern Kentucky region. The Cumberland region has a negative difference of 2,962, followed by the Lincoln Trail region, West Kentucky region, and TENCO regions.

There is nothing, at this point, to suggest that the imbalance of labor allocation is going to change any time soon. Policymakers should be aware the gap is likely to continue growing.


Jordan Harris is founder and co-executive director of Pegasus Institute.

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