HAZARD – A continuing decline in the local coal industry was reflected in the latest rates of unemployment in Kentucky’s eastern coal counties, with even Pike County now registering a percentage of joblessness into the double digits.
The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training released the latest round of county-by-county unemployment figures last week, with Perry County and several neighboring counties among the bottom 10 in the state. Of those 10 counties recording the highest rates of unemployment, every county is located in Eastern Kentucky, with Fulton County, located in the state’s far western region, being the lone exception.
Perry County’s unemployment rose to 13.5 percent in May, the latest figure available, which far surpassed the state average of 8.1 percent. The county’s rate represents an increase of nearly a full percentage point from 12.6 percent in April. More than 1,600 people in the county’s workforce of 11,972 were estimated to be without a job in May.
Perry County’s rate of joblessness has also steadily increased since May 2011, when the county recorded a rate of 9.7 percent.
Rates in each of the seven remaining counties in the Kentucky River Area Development District also saw disappointing numbers in May, as rates in Knott (14.9), Breathitt (12.4), Leslie (14.4), Lee (13.1), Letcher (16.2), Owsley (11), and Wolfe (12.9) counties each rose from the previous month. Of those same counties, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, and Wolfe also saw an increase over the previous year. The other counties either remained flat or saw slight decreases when compared to May 2012.
In May 2013, more than 6,200 people were estimated to have been unemployed in the eight-county KRADD region, with a combined average of 13.8 percent joblessness.
Other counties of the state’s Eastern Coalfields did not fare much better, if at all. Floyd, Pike, and Harlan counties each saw significant increases, especially over the past year. Pike County, the state’s second largest coal producer, saw a jump from 8.5 to 10.6 percent from May 2012 to May 2013. Floyd County jumped from 9.9 to 12.1, while Harlan rose from 12.8 to 16.3 percent.
Other eastern coal counties recording high rates of unemployment include Bell at 14.5 and Jackson at 13.8 percent.