LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Median household income was flat or declined in all but four of Kentucky’s 120 counties in the years following the Great Recession, according to new Census Bureau data.
The Census estimates released last month allow a comparison of Kentucky household earnings during two periods – the five years between 2005 and 2009, when the recession ended, and from 2010 to 2014.
The figures show that wages in the state, and in Louisville, largely failed to keep pace with inflation during a period that included an economic rebound and falling jobless rates.
“My sense is the recovery from the recession is part of the issue, a big part of it,” said Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics for the Kentucky Education & Workforce Development Cabinet’s office of employment and training.
Crouch said it’s been a “slow recovery,” noting that the economy didn’t begin to improve in earnest until 2013 and 2014 – the final two years included in the Census surveys.
In all, 30 Kentucky counties posted changes that were statistically significant; incomes declined in 26 of those counties
Rural areas were among the hardest hit, with inflation-adjusted incomes plummeting by more than 15 percent in seven counties outside the state’s major metropolitan areas. The sharpest decline, a 21 percent drop, occurred in Metcalfe County in southcentral Kentucky.
Urban counties fared somewhat better, even though incomes fell five percent,to $47,692, in Jefferson County, while Fayette County had a six percent drop.
Four counties in eastern Kentucky – Rowan, Lawrence, Breathitt and Magoffin – posted an increase in incomes.
The Census data, which is based on surveys and deemed the most accurate of the multiyear estimates done by the U.S. government, surprised some officials in those counties.
For example, household incomes in Breathitt County rose nearly 24 percent, to $26,094, from 2010 to 2014, a large jump in the county east of the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Breathitt County hasn’t seen any significant new employers in recent years and has suffered a loss of coal-related jobs, said Mike Miller, a former mayor of Jackson and director of the Kentucky River Area Development District.
The 211 people who worked in the mining, oil and gas industries in the county in 2006 represented about five percent of Breathitt’s overall jobs, according to Census figures. Those jobs all but disappeared after the recession, falling to just eight in 2013.
“I’m not saying their figures are wrong,” Miller said. “But I’ve lived in Jackson all my life, and I would be very, very surprised if the median household income has increased.”
Likewise, Sherry McDavid said she was surprised at Census data showing that incomes jumped nearly 23 percent, to $36,225, in Lawrence County.
The county on the Kentucky border with West Virginia has “virtually no industry” and stands to lose more workers as the Big Sandy power plant is converted to run on natural gas, said McDavid, executive director of FIVCO area development district.
McDavid suspects the increase in income may be the result of more Lawrence County residents working elsewhere, including pipefitters and construction workers. Nearly three-fourths of workers living in Lawrence held jobs in other counties in 2013, according to Census figures.
“They go where the jobs are and that could be anywhere on the eastern seaboard,” she said.
The median household income fell in 41 Indiana counties after the recession. North Dakota, where oil and gas exploration has boomed in recent years, was the only state that didn’t see an inflation-adjusted decline in incomes.
Manufacturing jobs growing
Another report released in December offers a mixed picture of Kentucky’s post-recession economy.
Economist Paul Coomes, who analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data through mid-2015, found that the state has added 119,000 jobs since June 2009, but those most of those gains have been in populated, urban counties.
Jefferson and Fayette counties accounted for nearly half of the job growth, while 48 of the state’s 120 counties have fewer jobs than they did six years ago, Coomes wrote in his report.
But Kentucky workers earned less -- $10,700 – during last year’s April-June period than the national average of $12,600, Coomes found. In addition, only the northern Kentucky area had wages rise faster – 14 percent -- than the national average.
And while Kentucky still has 12,000 fewer manufacturing jobs than it did during 2007, the state has added those positions at a faster rate than the U.S. as a whole, Coomes found.
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All rights reserved. WDRB web producer Dalton Main contributed graphics for this story.