As more Kentuckians are vaccinated, schools, child care centers and other in-person activities resume, and people return to work in greater numbers, Kentucky’s economy is beginning to improve. But the recovery may not be even across sectors or parts of the state, and many Kentuckians will still need support as we continue to move toward the goal of full employment. That goal may be harder to reach if we cut off relief measures and other forms of fiscal stimulus too soon.
This tracker brings together some of the most important indicators of how Kentucky’s economy is faring, including still-elevated utilization of safety net programs. It will be updated as new data are released.
Initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending June 5: 5,906
Initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the week ending June 5: 2,076
Claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for the week ending May 22: 20,554
New unemployment insurance (UI) claims are close to a real-time indicator of labor market health. Continued state unemployment insurance claims are a helpful indicator for how protracted joblessness is, as individuals ask for additional weeks of benefits. The federally-funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) programs also provide continued claims for those who have either exhausted or don’t qualify for regular state unemployment benefits. Regular state UI, PEUC and PUA claimants also receive the extra $300 per week benefit known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. All three federal programs will expire September 5 in Kentucky without further action by Congress.
The most recent week represents “advance claims” rather than initial claims, and is revised the following week with actual initial claims.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Total SNAP participation in May 2021: 603,105
Percent of Kentucky participating in SNAP May 2021: 13.5%
Value of groceries purchased with SNAP May 2021: $127.0 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 how Kentuckians with low incomes are faring in the recovery, 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.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all SNAP participants receive the maximum benefit per-person, rather than the normal proration of benefits based on income. And through the December federal relief bill and the American Rescue Plan, SNAP participants will also receive a 15% increase in benefits through September 2021 as long as states still have an emergency declaration in place.
Employment in Kentucky
Total estimated Kentucky employment April 2021: 1,858,900
Percent change in Kentucky employment from last month: –0.1%
After a historic level of job loss last year triggered by COVID-19, and a steep but partial recovery last summer, the incomplete recovery of the labor market has been sluggish. Spurred demand through expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus checks have helped to sustain and jumpstart the economy, but letting the foot off the fiscal gas too soon could hamper those efforts. New measures in the American Jobs and Families plans would spur immediate job creation and create the conditions for a healthy job market in the long term. Changes in total employment reflect the state of the labor market amidst these policy changes.
The following chart tracks the monthly nonfarm employment in Kentucky from the Current Employment Statistics State and Metro Area Employment estimates.