File-Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear addresses the media in this file photo following the return of a grand jury investigation into the death of Breonna Taylor at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Sept. 23, 2020.

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(The Center Square) – Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show Kentucky has the nation’s highest rate of people quitting jobs and the second-highest rate of job openings. The data shows how complex the state’s workforce issues are in the current environment, Gov. Andy Beshear said.

The federal figures released last week showed that 8.2% of Kentucky’s jobs were open in August. Only Alaska’s 9% rated higher.

The rate actually declined since June, when 8.9% of jobs were open in the state. The drop indicates about 15,000 fewer openings over that two-month span.

However, other states have reported sharper drops since then. Michigan, for example, went from 9.5% to 7.2%, thanks to 110,000 fewer openings. Nevada had the nation’s highest mark in June at 10.6%, but with only 116,000 August openings - 42,000 fewer than June - its rate fell to 7.9%.

Earlier this year, Republicans in the Kentucky state legislature were calling on the state to drop out of federal unemployment programs. They said supplemented payments kept too many workers from re-entering the job market.

That program tied to pandemic relief aid packages ended in September. 

Beshear, a Democrat, told reporters during a press conference the state’s workforce situation is more complex than that, and employers will need to respond to that. 

BLS data showed Kentucky had 26,000 workers quit jobs in August. Only two other states had higher totals for the month. At 4.5%, Kentucky’s quit rate was the nation’s highest.

The national quit rate was 2.9%.

“It may be that people are looking for a different environment,” the governor said. “It may be other jobs have opened up. It’s going to require that the private sector get a little creative and also in many instances try to improve conditions, maybe even pay.”

Even with the labor issues, Kentucky has had a very successful year from an economic development standpoint. That’s been highlighted by Ford Motor Co.’s announcement it would build a $5.8 billion battery production plant in Glendale that will employ 5,000 workers. 

Overall, the facility expansions and new operations announced this year for Kentucky communities are expected to create more than 12,000 new jobs in the next few years.

The federal statistics come just a couple weeks after the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce issued a report showing the state’s workforce participation numbers - defined as people either employed or actively seeking work - ranked among the lowest in the nation.

Charles Aull, a senior policy analyst for the chamber and author of its report, said the number of job openings is a further indication of the state’s challenges.

“We’ve all seen the hiring signs, but now we have new data with which to quantify it,” he said. “More needs to be done to increase worker availability in Kentucky.”

This article originally ran on thecentersquare.com.

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