New federal data on Labor Surplus Areas (LSAs) for 2019 — counties and cities that persistently have more available workers than jobs — shows the depth of Kentucky’s economic challenges. Over the past year the number of LSAs in Kentucky — many of them in rural parts of the state — increased rather than decreased. This data underscores that while there have been job gains from an economy that has been recovering ever since 2010, we have a long way to go before gains are widely shared.
Labor Surplus Areas are a federal designation for a locale (typically a city or county) that has an average annual unemployment rate during the previous two calendar years of 20 percent or more above the average annual unemployment rate for all states during the same timeframe. Over the past year the number of LSAs in Kentucky grew — from 48 counties and 3 cities in 2018 to 52 counties and 3 cities in 2019. The map below shows the Kentucky counties designated as LSAs for 2019. The cities that are LSAs in 2019 (and were in 2018 as well) are Ashland, Hopkinsville and Paducah.
Not all past LSAs in Kentucky remained so this year. Counties designated a Labor Surplus Area in 2018 but not 2019 were:
Counties newly designated a Labor Surplus Area in 2019 were:
Kentucky’s growing number of LSAs should make us all skeptical about claims that there are jobs – let alone good jobs – available for anyone willing to work. As we note in The State of Working Kentucky 2018, non-metro Kentucky has experienced essentially no net job growth during the economic recovery that started in 2010 (while metro Kentucky has).
The LSA data also highlights how problematic it is to make individuals’ participation in certain safety net programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) contingent on how much they work. Especially in LSAs, where there are too few jobs to go around, revoking Kentuckians’ health coverage and kicking them off food assistance when they don’t get enough hours of work or work-related activities is counterproductive and will worsen poverty.