Economy

Census: Incomes Continue To Climb In The Commonwealth

Sep 16, 2016
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Days after the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing Americans’ incomes were up by 5.2 percent from 2014-15 — the first significant increase since the Great Recession — the agency issued region-specific numbers.

The data, released Thursday, comes from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Here are three things to know about the changes in Kentucky:

Flickr/Creative Commons

Kentucky’s statewide broadband internet project, KentuckyWired, will be complete by mid-2019, according to Gov. Matt Bevin.

The $324 million public-private project is a collaboration between the state and private partners, who will operate and maintain the network for 30 years, charging the state about $28.5 million and up per year. After 30 years, Kentucky will own the network.

During a news conference Friday, Bevin said the project will help make Kentucky the “hub of excellence for America.”

“It cannot happen without broadband, it cannot happen without a strong technological infrastructure,” he said.

The project will stretch 3,000-miles of fiber optic cable to build out the “middle mile” of a statewide broadband network. Cities and businesses across the state will be in charge of building out the “last mile” to connect services to customers.

An Alpha Natural Resources spokesman says the company plans to lay off 117 people when it shuts down a Kentucky coal mine in November.

Spokesman Steve Hawkins tells the Lexington Herald-Leader  that the company has issued a required 60-day layoff notice at the Process Energy Mine in Pike County, which is set to be closed on Nov. 7.

Hawkins says dismal market conditions are the reason for the layoffs.

He says the Process Energy mine is Alpha's last active mine in Kentucky. The Bristol, Virginia-based company has 18 mines in West Virginia.

TaxCredits.net

Things are looking up for some Kentucky workers. That’s according to a new report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The study says unemployment in 2015 returned to its pre-recession rate of 5.4 percent. The report also found that the gender wage gap is narrowing in the commonwealth. 

In 2015, women in Kentucky earned 86 cents to every dollar that men earned. That’s compared to 81 cents in 2014 and a mere 62 cents in 1979. A big part of that shift, according to the report, is that things have gotten worse for men. Many well-paying jobs in Kentucky typically held by men — including construction, manufacturing and mining jobs — have disappeared.

“Those have typically provided good jobs to men, especially with lower levels of education,” said Anna Baumann, co-author of the report and policy analyst at the center.

Becca Schimmel

Thousands of retired coal miners will rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to urge Congress to shore up a fund that supports their pensions and benefits. Area lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were at the National Press Club in Washington to speak in support of the Miner’s Protection Act.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin called for an immediate markup and passage of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, where it has been bottled up for most of the year. Manchin wants Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, to work together to pass the bill.  

All we’re asking for is the compassion to do the right thing, fulfill the commitment, a promise that was made,” Manchin said.

Manchin is referring to a pledge dating to the 1940s, when Congress intervened in a national coal strike and established a health and welfare fund for miners. The agreement used royalties on coal production to create a retirement fund for miners and their dependents in cases of sickness, disability, death and retirement.

Frankie Steele

A controversial biomass plant proposed for Eastern Kentucky has moved closer to extinction following a ruling Thursday by the state Public Service Commission.

The PSC rescinded an order that allowed the $1.26 billion wood-burning project to proceed. The move came in response to a state court of appeals decision last month that deemed the plant unnecessary and likely to cause an undue economic burden on the region’s residents.

“As a result, it has no future, thankfully,” said Michael Kurtz, the Cincinnati attorney representing Kentucky Industrial Utility Customers Inc., an association of major energy-consuming companies that had filed suit to contest the PSC’s decision.

“The plant could only be financed and built if the businesses and poor people of Eastern Kentucky were forced to subsidize this grossly uneconomic project,” Kurtz said, adding that the project would have helped only “politically-connected developers.”

TaxCredits.net

Kentucky’s unemployment rate is now at the lowest point in 15 years.  Figures released Thursday by the state show that the July unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, the lowest in Kentucky since May 2001. 

The state is now on par with the national average which also posted a 4.9 percent jobless rate last month.  Manoj Shanker, an economist at the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training, says Kentucky is at nearly full employment.

"When the unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, that means that anybody who really wants a job has a job," Shanker told WKU Public Radio.

On the flip side, the low jobless rate can present a challenge for employers, making it difficult for them to find workers without raising wages or bringing them in from other states. 

Kentucky’s strongest job sector continues to be manufacturing followed by the financial activities sector.  The retail trade, construction and government sector all reported losses last month.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Trade has emerged as a potent issue this election season, with the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a flash point in the political debate. The stakes are high for the Ohio Valley region, where thousands of workers and billions of dollars in goods could be affected by the outcome of this trade agreement.

Very different sides of the trade story can be found at  two manufacturing companies in southern Kentucky: conveyer-belt maker Span-Tech and auto parts maker Trace Die Cast.

These businesses are just 30 miles from each other, but when it comes to their views on trade, they’re worlds apart. Their differences can tell us a lot about why trade is such a contentious issue and what it means for our region.

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We’ve all heard it before: The best time to start saving for retirement was yesterday.

But many workers, particularly young, low-income and part-time workers, are more likely to not have a retirement plan through their jobs.

Nearly half of private sector employees ages 25 to 64 in Kentucky work for a company that does not offer a retirement plan. That’s approximately 566,780 people, according to a new report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.  

“States are needing to step in,” says Ashley Spalding, research and policy associate at the center. 

Spaulding authored the study, which recommends a state-sponsored plan that would automatically deduct savings out of a worker’s check.

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Mark Muro is having a conversation with someone in a bar. The person’s in their late twenties and is having trouble finding work. Maybe they have a high school diploma. Mark’s advice? Enroll in the closest community college you can.

Fast.

Auto manufacturing and digital services are some of the industries contributing to Kentucky’s economic growth. And you don’t need a Master’s or PhD to get a job in these areas.

“STEM workers are crucial to regional prosperity and advanced industry success but they don’t all need to have to have college degrees,” says Muro, senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings Institute’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Muro did a study tracking the growth of advanced industries. Blue-collar STEM jobs fall under these industries, which employ more than 170,000 people in Kentucky. The average salary in an advanced industry is just over $65,000 in the commonwealth. That compares with almost $42,000 for all other industries.

Report: Kentucky Coal Jobs Hit Lowest Level Since 1898

Aug 4, 2016
Erica Peterson

Officials believe there are fewer coal jobs in Kentucky than there have been in more than 115 years.

News outlets report that a quarterly report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet reveals that the number of coal jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent from April to June of this year.

In western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016 while the number of jobs in the state's eastern region dropped 6.1 percent during that same time.

As of July 1, the estimated number of coal jobs remaining in Kentucky was 6,465, which officials say is the lowest mark since 1898.

A switch to natural gas, stricter federal regulations on coal designed to preserve the environment and the advance of renewable energy have contributed to the industry's plunge.

Tennessee Valley Authority

The number of coal jobs in Kentucky continue to decline.  A report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet says the number of jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent.

In Western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent from April to June. The amount of coal produced in that region declined 12.3 percent. Production in the state’s eastern coalfield is the lowest it’s been since 1915.

Kentucky now has less miners than in 1898, before the extension of railroads allowed for explosive growth in production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky.

Analysts say there are a number of reasons for the decline, including competition for power-plant customers from cheap natural gas; tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality and the growth of renewable energy sources.

Pixabay

You are Letcher County, Kentucky. You are rural, mountainous, and in the heart of the central Appalachian coalfields. Your economy is not in good shape. Fox News has called your largest town “the poster child for the war on coal.” You are offered funds to build a new federal prison. It could bring jobs but also brings up troubling moral issues. What do you do?

Call it the prison builder’s dilemma: Letcher County and other rural areas are wrestling with a choice between a potential economic boost and the ethical burden of becoming the nation’s jailers.

Coalfield economies have been hit hard by the industry’s recent decline and Eastern Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District has been among the most affected. Today it has the second-lowest median household income in the country, and the second-lowest rate of labor force participation.

In recent years, a big chunk of the money flowing into the region has come through the Bureau of Prisons. Three federal penitentiaries have been built in the district, and now, money has been set aside to build a fourth — in Letcher County.

Rebecca Schimmel

Miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia who helped keep the country’s lights on are worried that their retirement benefits could go dark as a result of a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry. They hope Congress will approve a bill called the Miner’s Protection Act to shore up the pensions and health benefits promised to union miners.

The bill has been bottled up in the Senate’s Finance Committee but Hill sources say Senate leaders have promised a committee vote before Congress breaks for the summer on July 15.

Joe Holland has been with the United Mine Workers of America for four decades. He worked 10 years as an underground miner for Peabody Energy in Muhlenberg County, in western Kentucky. Born in a company-owned house, Holland is a fourth generation coal miner. His grandmother kept two pictures on the mantle; Jesus and the UMWA’s legendary leader John L. Lewis.“Without Christ y’know they thought they was going to hell, and without John L. Lewis they was going to starve to death,” Holland said.

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky is working on a multimillion-dollar plan to bring broadband internet to the eastern part of the state, home to some of the country’s most impoverished places. A federal report released this year found that from around a third to nearly half of rural residents in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia lack high-speed internet and the job opportunities that come with it. But a few areas are ahead of the curve. In Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley Counties, broadband has already arrived and is already creating jobs.

With a population of 1,095, Annville, Kentucky is one of the bigger towns in Jackson County. It’s surrounded by grassy fields and rolling hills, which are the inspiration for the county’s tourism slogan: “Where the Mountains and the Bluegrass Blend.

It’s not easy to find a job in Jackson County. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Most people who have jobs work outside the county. For Annville resident Alisha Tanfield, those long costly commutes made it hard to make ends meet. “After you pay gas, you’re not making anything,” she said.

If you’re barely getting by and your livelihood depends on a long commute, car troubles can create a major crisis. When Tanfield’s car broke down she lost what income she had and found herself struggling to provide for her two daughters. Then Tanfield heard about a friend who had found a work-from-home job through the Teleworks USA job board. Tanfield says she’d always been curious about work-from-home jobs but hadn’t tried applying for any because she thought a lot of them are scams.

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