As more Kentuckians are vaccinated, and as consumer demand remains strong, people are returning to work in greater numbers and Kentucky’s economy is beginning to improve. While the Delta and Omicron variants threw a wrench in the recovery, job growth has been strong this year, even as inflation has made it more difficult for many to make ends meet – making supports like SNAP and unemployment insurance critical to support Kentucky workers on and off the job.
This tracker brings together some of the most important indicators of how Kentucky’s economy is faring, including the falling use of safety net programs. It will be updated as new data are released.
Initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending January 14: 5,453
Continued claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending January 7: 12,006
New unemployment insurance (UI) claims are close to a real-time indicator of labor market health, and have been extremely low in recent months by historical standards, even outside the most recent downturn. Continued state unemployment insurance claims are a helpful indicator for how protracted joblessness is, as individuals ask for additional weeks of benefits. Several federal jobless benefit programs expired in September 2021 and has since phased out for those who remain on the program.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Total SNAP participation in December 2022: 553,476
Percent of Kentucky participating in SNAP December 2022: 12.3%
Value of groceries purchased with SNAP December 2022: $94.8 million
Like unemployment insurance, SNAP responds quickly to changes in the economy, and so it is also a nearly real-time indicator for how Kentuckians are faring. Because it is targeted to people with net incomes below the poverty line ($26,500 for a family of four), it is particularly helpful for knowing the status of Kentuckians with low incomes, who experienced steeper job losses during the downturn. SNAP is a strong tool for reducing food insecurity and improving health, but also for dampening economic harm during downturns.
In October 2021, SNAP participants in Kentucky began receiving average benefit increase of 27% thanks to a recalculation of the “Thrifty Food Plan” at the federal level, which is how the value of SNAP benefits is determined, and an additional cost of living adjustment was made in October 2021.
However, emergency allotments that provide the maximum benefit amount to all participating households ended in April 2022 due to Senate Joint Resolution 150. These boosted benefits provided an average of 41%, or $100 more per month in SNAP benefits, and Kentuckians had been receiving them since April 2020.
Total Employment in Kentucky
Total estimated Kentucky employment December 2022: 1,968,200
Percent change in Kentucky employment from last month: -0.2%
After a historic level of job loss last year triggered by COVID-19, and a steep but partial recovery in the summer of 2020, the recovery of the labor market has been steady. Spurred demand through expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus checks helped to sustain and jumpstart the economy. Despite high inflation, job growth remains steady and Kentucky’s labor market is on course to recover faster than the previous two recessions, after having shed far more jobs. Changes in total employment reflect the state of the labor market amidst an ever-shifting economic landscape.
The following chart tracks the monthly nonfarm employment in Kentucky from the Current Employment Statistics State and Metro Area Employment estimates.
Employment By Industry in Kentucky
Total employment added since April 2020, as of December 2022: 306,100
Employment regained (December 2022) as a share of pandemic-related employment loss (April 2020): 103.8%
As vaccination rates increase and federal relief like the American Rescue Plan Act spurs demand for goods and services, jobs are returning in the commonwealth. While industries like Trade, Transportation and Utilities and Professional and Business Services have returned to pre-pandemic levels of employment, public sector employment continues to remain far behind, specifically in state government.