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As Pandemic Unemployment Programs End, Will Kentucky's Worker Shortage Improve?

Lisa Autry

More than a dozen Kentucky Career Centers around the state are ready to help what they hope will be an influx of job seekers now that federal unemployment benefits have expired

More than 86,000 Kentuckians were still out of work in July, nearly a year-and-a-half since the start of the pandemic. 

The federal government suspended enhanced unemployment benefits on Sept. 6, and with people losing that extra $300 a week, that could send more looking for work. 

Jon Sowards, head of the South Central Workforce Development Board, said employers have made returning to the workforce more lucrative.

“Ask yourself, 'which side of the wave do you want to be on?'. Do you wanna be on the front side or the back side? If you’re on the front side, right now what we’re seeing is that wages are higher than ever, compensation and benefits packages are better than ever, there’s more bonuses than I’ve ever seen.”

About 7,800 jobs are vacant right now in the ten-county region of south-central Kentucky. 

Sowards adds 25 states ended federal jobless benefits early, and those states didn’t see the surge in people re-entering the workforce that was expected.

“We’re really in the middle of a generational shift in mindset about work, and I think people with this pandemic have had a chance to rethink priorities, maybe have figured out they can make it on one income instead of two," Sowards said. "I’m not sure where this workforce is going, but I don’t think it will be what it was.”

In July, there were more than 5,800 residents out of work in south-central Kentucky.  Sowards says job openings run the gamut, but the retail, food, hospitality, manufacturing, and health care sectors especially need workers. 

Job seekers can visit a Kentucky Career Center to learn about vacant positions and receive help with things like resume writing and interviewing skills. In south-central Kentucky, those offices are located in Bowling Green and Glasgow. 

Before visiting a Kentucky Career Center, job-seekers should be aware of the following:

  • Check with your local Kentucky Career Center to see if an appointment is needed for job seeker assistance due to COVID-19.
  • Anyone attending an appointment must wear a mask at all times.
  • Photo identification is required to enter a KCC building.
Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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