Kentucky unemployment rates fall, remain high in Eastern Kentucky

HARLAN, Ky. (WYMT) - Jobless rates fell in 83 Kentucky counties in January, but the employment picture is not as rosy in the mountains as it is elsewhere in the state.

Woodford County topped the list, reporting a jobless rate of less than six percent, but several counties in Eastern Kentucky are experiencing prolonged double-digit unemployment. Harlan county reported one of the worst unemployment rates at 15.8 percent. People there say coal layoffs are largely to blame.

Tommy Napier is a 39-year coal mining veteran from Harlan. He was laid off in May of last year, and has been trying to get back to work ever since.

"Right now at this moment the jobs are very very scarce here in Harlan," he said. "You know we're looking every day for work but there's no work to be found."

County officials say widespread coal layoffs have many miners making do with a lot less.

"And then you have the ripple effect of that, when miners are laid off. They aren't buying as much product, they're not buying cars, they're not buying homes or fixing homes up," said Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop.

The overall Kentucky unemployment rate dropped below eight percent for the month of January, something that had not happened in more than four years, however in Harlan County the number is closer to 16 percent, something the judge-executive ties directly to a downturn in the coal industry.

He says demand for coal has always been cyclical, but this latest slowdown is dragging on too long.

"The concern that I have is that if we go too long, that a lot of our good mining experience will either leave, or just go into another profession," Grieshop said.

It is not clear when the coal jobs might come back, but Tommy Napier says he is not leaving Harlan any time soon.

The report indicates Magoffin County had the highest unemployment in the state in January, coming in at just under nineteen percent.

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