FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky continues to struggle with a major substance use disorder crisis, with devastating effects not only on public health and families but also on Kentucky’s economy and workforce. In fact, substance use disorder, or SUD, is a key reason why Kentucky has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the nation, according to a new report by the Kentucky Chamber Center for Policy and Research titled “Working Towards Recovery.”
“Policymakers in Kentucky have worked hard in recent years to address Kentucky’s severe workforce challenges and encourage increased participation in the labor market,” said Dr. Charles Aull, Executive Director of the Kentucky Chamber Center for Policy and Research. “But our new report shows that substance use disorder continues to pull more and more Kentuckians out of the workforce. The impact of this crisis on our workforce and economy is another reason why stakeholders in both the public and private sectors need to double down on common-sense solutions.
The report lays out key facts about Kentucky’s SUD and workforce challenges and proposes public policy solutions, which include increased funding for treatment, recovery, and prevention, ensuring access to quality recovery housing, reforming our criminal justice system, and encouraging more fair chance hiring.
Some of the key facts from the report include:
More than a quarter million Kentuckians met the criteria for SUD according to government survey data from 2016-2019, while documented drug overdose deaths have increased by 118 percent over the past decade.
Kentucky’s workforce participation rate is one of the top 10 lowest in the nation and has been steadily declining over the past 20 years.
Substance use disorder is a leading cause of falling workforce participation nationwide, with opioid use accounting for as much as 43 percent of the decline among men and 25 percent among women.
Working Towards Recovery weaves together data and academic research with the results of live polling gathered during the Chamber’s Kentucky Comeback Tour. The tour included stops across the Commonwealth and provided a forum for law enforcement, individuals in long-term recovery, business leaders, and SUD treatment and recovery professionals to provide critical input on how SUD is affecting their communities and to find consensus on solutions.
“The future of Kentucky’s economy hinges on building a globally competitive workforce,” said Ashli Watts, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber. “A vital lesson we learned from the Kentucky Comeback Tour was that SUD is tearing families apart and keeping Kentuckians from working and reaching their full potential in every corner of the Commonwealth. We must lean into solutions we know can produce results. Working Towards Recovery provides a renewed road map for how to get there and underscores the urgency of this challenge.”
This new report continues the efforts of the Kentucky Chamber and the Kentucky Chamber Foundation to highlight the Commonwealth’s workforce challenges and drive solutions. In 2021, the Chamber Foundation published 20 Years in the Making: Kentucky’s Workforce Crisis and in recent years has launched programs such as the Fair Chance Academy, the Workforce Recovery Task Force, Talent Pipeline Management®, and more. The Chamber has also worked aggressively to champion pro-workforce legislative initiatives in Frankfort such as criminal justice reform, financial aid for vocational training, child care solutions, addressing benefits cliffs, and fair chance hiring protections for employers.
“Working Towards Recovery” can be read in full here.