While 99 counties in Kentucky saw a drop in unemployment between November 2011 and November 2012, several counties in Eastern Kentucky saw the opposite, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training.
Counties in the Kentucky River Area Development District, including Perry, Knott, Owsley and others, reported some of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Out of these counties, Letcher County had the highest unemployment rate at 13.3 percent, followed by Breathitt County with 11.7 percent. Lee County was the only county in the district to see a drop, coming from 12.2 percent to 10.9 percent.
Perry County recorded a 3 percent increase in unemployment, from 9.2 percent in November 2011 to 12.2 percent in November 2012. Perry County has experienced a steady decline in unemployment since August, when rates were at their highest.
Manoj Shanker, an economist for the Office of Employment and Training, said even though the rest of the state is seeing a decline in joblessness, there is a reason for the rates in Eastern Kentucky to be so different from the rest of the state.
“One would think the rising tide would move more boats, but that is not the case here,” Shanker said. “For the last year and a half, coal has gotten a lot of competition from natural gas and oil, which has put a lot of pressure on coal.”
Shanker said since the counties in this region of Kentucky have relied heavily on coal to sustain their economy for many years, a strain on the coal industry would cause a change in job and unemployment rates.
“If you look at the top 10 counties on the list, those with the lowest unemployment rates, they have a more diversified economy,” Shanker said. “Any economy that’s more diversified is more able to recuperate from a recession.”
Shanker said in the coming years natural gas prices will most likely increase, so the pressure on coal and the unemployment rates in counties in Eastern Kentucky should change.