Kentucky’s annual unemployment rate for 2015 fell to 5.4 percent, ties lowest mark since 2007

Kentucky’s annual unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in 2015 from 6.5 percent in 2014, while nonfarm employment gained 27,700 jobs, according to the Office of Employment and Training (OET), an agency of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

It was the lowest annual jobless rate for the state since 2007 when it was also 5.4 percent.

“At 5.4 percent, Kentucky’s unemployment rate has reached the pre-recession low last seen in 2007,” said economist Manoj Shanker of OET. “The job market hit a historical high in 2015 with nonfarm employment rising to almost 1.9 million.

“In spite of these gains, there is undoubtedly room for improvement,” he added. “Kentucky has a low labor force participation rate, which at 53.7 percent, ranks us at 47th in the nation.”


The U.S. annual unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in 2015 from 6.2 percent in 2014.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimate of the number of employed Kentuckians for 2015 was 1,847,938. This figure is down 27,994 from the 1,875,932 employed in 2014 and down 34,005 from 2005.

The estimated number of unemployed Kentuckians for 2015 was 105,455, down 24,216 from the 129,671 unemployed in 2014. The number of those unemployed is down by 12,379 compared to 10 years ago.

In 2015, the estimated number of Kentuckians in the civilian labor force was 1,953,393. This is down 52,210 from the 2,005,603 recorded in 2014, and down 46,384 persons from 1,999,777 in 2005.

Labor force statistics, including the unemployment rate, are based on surveys designed to measure trends.

Annual unemployment rates declined in 47 states in 2015 compared to 2014. The lowest rates were in North Dakota, 2.7 percent, and Nebraska, 3 percent. Nevada and West Virginia tied with the highest unemployment rates among the states at 6.7 percent. The District of Columbia ranked at the bottom at 6.9 percent.

Kentucky had the 21st highest annual unemployment rate among all states and the District of Columbia in 2015. Kentucky was one of 23 states, including the District of Columbia, with annual unemployment rates above the U.S. annual rate in 2015. Four contiguous states, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia, had unemployment rates lower than the national average. The other three, Illinois, Tennessee and West Virginia, had unemployment rates higher than the U.S. average.

In a separate federal survey of business establishments that excludes jobs in agriculture and people who are self-employed, Kentucky’s nonfarm payroll in 2015 increased by 27,700 or 1.5 percent to 1,885,500 employees.

Nonfarm data is provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics program. According to this survey, seven of Kentucky’s 11 major nonfarm job sectors listed in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) showed employment growth in 2015, while four reported losses.

According to the annual employment data, Kentucky’s trade, transportation and utilities sector jumped by 9,800 jobs or 2.6 percent in 2015. Over a 10-year period, the number of jobs increased by 9,000 or 2.4 percent. It is the largest Kentucky sector with a total of 386,800 jobs or one-fifth of Kentucky’s nonfarm employment. Within the sector in 2015, wholesale trade was up by 600 jobs, retail trade employment increased by 4,700, while businesses in transportation, warehousing and utilities added 4,500 jobs.

“The Kentucky job market hasn’t slowed in spite of the turmoil in the global financial markets. Domestic demand for consumer goods has pushed up employment in retail trade. Transportation and warehousing jobs have been helped by Kentucky’s geographic location combined with businesses favoring drop shipping warehouses that are increasingly being located in the Commonwealth,” said Shanker.

Kentucky’s manufacturing sector expanded by 5,800 jobs or 2.5 percent in 2015 for a total of 241,100 positions. In the last 10 years, the manufacturing base has eroded by 8 percent with the loss of 20,900 jobs.

“The durable goods sector is expanding. The decline in energy prices has helped manufacturing by lowering production costs, and by increasing disposable income,” said Shanker. “In the last five years Kentucky’s manufacturing base has expanded with the resurgence of the auto industry.”

The state’s professional and business services, a sector that includes professional, scientific and technical services, management of companies, and administrative and support management, added 5,600 jobs in 2015 for an expansion of 2.7 percent. This category also includes temporary help agencies that provide workers to other businesses on a contractual basis. In the last 10 years, the sector has surged by 41,800 jobs or 24 percent.

The leisure and hospitality sector grew by 5,300 positions in 2015, and rose by 23,100 or 14 percent since 2005. Within the sector are arts, entertainment and recreation, and accommodation and food services.

The educational and health services sector rose by 4,200 jobs in 2015 and has surged by 26,900 or a little over 11 percent in the last 10 years. Within this sector, health care and social assistance industries, such as hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities and social assistance businesses, added 5,100 jobs in 2015, and expanded by 29,200 jobs for a robust 14.2 percent gain in the past 10 years. Educational services in this sector include employees at private elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools along with other establishments that provide instruction and training. Educational services lost 800 jobs in 2015, and declined by 2,400 jobs in the last 10 years.

“Both demographics in the form of aging Baby Boomers, and the federal government adding well over a billion dollars to health services in Kentucky, has led to a spike in health care jobs,” said Shanker.

Kentucky’s construction sector added 3,200 jobs in 2015, for a growth of 4.4 percent. The sector has declined by 8,400 jobs or 10 percent since 2005.
The financial activities sector gained 2,400 jobs from a year ago. Over the past 10 years this sector has added 6,800 jobs or 7.9 percent.

Other services, a sector that includes repair and maintenance; personal and laundry services; and religious, civic, and professional organizations, dropped by 300 jobs or .5 percent in 2015. The sector has lost 12,700 jobs in the last 10 years.

The information sector, which includes establishments involved in publishing, Internet activities, data processing, broadcasting and news syndication, was down by 800 jobs in 2015 from a year ago. It has lost 4,100 jobs or 14 percent compared to 10 years ago.

Employment in the mining and logging sector fell by nearly 14 percent with the loss of 2,300 jobs in 2015. Over a 10-year period the sector has contracted by one-third with a decline of 7,200 jobs. Other industries included in the sector are forestry; oil and gas extraction; and support activities for mining.

The government sector, which includes federal, state and local employment in public education, public administration agencies and state-owned hospitals, dropped by 5,200 jobs or 1.6 percent 2015. In the last 10 years, the sector has grown by 17,200 positions.

Unemployment statistics are based on estimates and are compiled to measure trends rather than actually to count the number of people working. Civilian labor force statistics include non-military workers and unemployed Kentuckians who are actively seeking work. They do not include unemployed Kentuckians who have not looked for employment within the past four weeks.

Learn more about Kentucky labor market information at

From Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Communications

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