“Eastern Kentucky is shedding population through a combination of out-migration and deaths that are outpacing births, circumstances that have accelerated as the coal industry has declined,” says Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland policy analyst Matt Klesta. And those who are entering the region are often poorly educated, low-wage earners, and/or not in the labor force, according to Klesta’s analysis of the region’s population and migration trends.
The researcher says Eastern Kentucky had the greatest net migration loss to Fayette County, Kentucky, home to the fast-growing city of Lexington. Conversely, the region had the greatest net gain from Wayne County, West Virginia, where natural resource and mining employment has declined significantly.
“This underscores the importance of attracting new jobs to and cultivating existing jobs and entrepreneurship within the region,” says Klesta, who notes that the state’s initiative to construct a broadband network in Eastern Kentucky could help the region diversify its job opportunities.
The researcher says moving the region forward will take a concerted effort from policymakers and stakeholders working together toward similar goals. “It’s evident through this look at population and migration trends that the region is still seeking its equilibrium,” says Klesta.