KENTUCKY — More than 395,000 Kentuckians have filed unemployment claims.
A new report from the right-leaning Pegasus Institute finds more Kentuckians per capita have filed unemployment claims compared to our neighboring states.
“We’re 20 percent higher than any of our neighbors,” said Josh Crawford, Executive Director of the Pegasus Institute. “The next highest is Ohio and it’s not even really close on a per capita basis”
The report finds 8,789 individuals per 100,000 residents have filed unemployment claims since March 21, that’s compared to 7,269 individuals per 100,000 residents in Ohio, the next closest state. Jason Bailey, from left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, however, says it could be too early to make that determination.
“The number of unemployment claims doesn’t necessarily reflect the number of people who’ve been laid off, it can reflect how good the state is reacting to the large number of people being laid off,” Bailey, the Executive Director of KCEP said. “By allowing them to get the benefits that they’re eligible to receive.”
Bailey says Kentucky is processing unemployment claims at a faster rate than Ohio currently is but Crawford says before the pandemic, Kentucky was ranked one of the worst states in processing unemployment claims.
“It’s supposed to be processed by law within 14-21 days of when people apply, only 71 percent of Kentucky claims prior to this were processed in that time frame. The national average is 87 percent so we were well below national average, we were 47th in the nation,” Crawford said. “Gov. Beshear says he plans on beefing up the unemployment office from a staffing standpoint and so it sort of remains to be seen how this happens but we are going into this with a pretty poor track record.”
The Beshear administration has added employees to the unemployment office in recent weeks, going from 12 employees to more than 1,200 employees however thousands of Kentuckians are still seeing delays in receiving those unemployment benefits as the commonwealth grapples with the unprecedented levels of claims.
Kentucky was also proactive in allowing more Kentuckians to file for unemployment benefits, beating even the federal government while surrounding states waited to expand the benefits to those who are self-employed and others.
“It’s not surprising that we would have higher numbers,” Bailey said. “Whether that shakes out to more unemployed people down the road, we don’t really know that yet and that will that will take time and it also depends on the extent of the spread of COVID-19 and the harm from COVID-19.”
Another factor to the higher unemployment claims in Kentucky compared to surrounding states could be attributed to Kentucky’s response to the pandemic, Kentucky has remained one of the most proactive states in the response to tackling the virus.
“We acted early on closing non-life sustaining business compared to other states,” said Bailey. “This is not an accident, we are doing this on purpose as a temporary measure to try and save people’s lives.”
Crawford noted Kentucky’s healthy at home order is one of the broadest in the country.
“We are the only state in the country that has told chiropractors that they can’t practice, but in addition, automotive sales have not been allowed here they have been allowed other places,” Crawford said. “One of the big contributors is the breadth of that stay at home order for Kentucky based on our surrounding states.”
In-person automotive sales are not being allowed right now but online sales are still able to be transacted and auto shops and body part stores have been allowed to remain open.
Crawford noted Kentucky is ranked eighth in the nation for per capita unemployment claims while remaining as one of the lower states for per capita deaths.
“All of the states that are above us on a per capita basis for deaths are much, much higher,” Crawford said. “It’s New York state, it’s Washington state, it’s Georgia, Kentucky right now has about 3 deaths per 100,000 residents, those other states are in the teens and twenties and so we are the only state other than Oregon, so it’s us and Oregon, that have these low death numbers and these high unemployment numbers”
The unemployment rate in Kentucky is at unprecedented levels with 395,510 unemployment claims a number that could increase as the pandemic continues.
“Kentucky likely has an unemployment rate of probably 20%,” said Bailey. “It was 10% in the worst point of the Great Recession, so we’re probably looking at employment deeper than the Great Recession, and it took a very long time to get out of there.”
The need for help for workers and employers to get the economy back on track is somewhere both sides can agree on.
“I think it underscores the importance of having not only a reopening plan but an economic recovery reopening plan and what does that look like that because the reality is what people have to come to terms with is some of the places you and I like to go will not exist after this,” said Crawford.
Crawford is urging the state to begin to start crafting a plan to ensure the workforce can get back to work once businesses are allowed to reopen but a large part of helping employers and employees get back to work comes from the federal government and the financial support they can extend to states.
“Once we get the economy going again that spending will be very important,” Bailey said. “One person spending is another person’s income so that people have those dollars in their pockets to spend and then when we lift restrictions then stores can open because they’ll have customers again.”
Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman is urging people who have not received a response on their unemployment claim to not resubmit another claim — she said this will only slow down the process.