unemployment

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After the 2008 recession revealed the weaknesses of the nation’s unemployment insurance systems, most states got to work upgrading their technology.

The need for such an overhaul was obvious, and the reason the federal government set aside $7 billion in 2009 to modernize the nation’s unemployment systems.

Forty states took the free money. But Kentucky left it on the table.

The commonwealth missed out on a cool $90 million back then. But experts say the failure to bring Kentucky’s unemployment insurance system into the 21st century is costing Kentucky to this day.


With hundreds of thousands across the Ohio Valley struggling to make ends meet, a suite of coronavirus aid packages, including rent and utility relief funding, eviction moratoriums, and expanded unemployment benefits, is set to expire at the end of December.

The consequences could be far-reaching. Poverty rates have soared as some federal programs, including the additional $600 in weekly unemployment aid, came to a close. Now, over 75% of Kentucky’s 7,654 independent restaurants are in danger of closing permanently, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition; one in three West Virginians is at risk of eviction; 16% of Ohioans are behind on their rent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is 6.9% ⁠— well below the terrifying peaks of late spring, but twice what it was in February.

Even those who do have cash to spend are being more cautious with it.

The Missing Voters: The Ohio Valley Has Some Of The Nation’s Lowest Voter Turnout. What Could Change

Nov 2, 2020
Devine Carama

This fall, Lexington, Kentucky, activist and artist Devine Carama launched a different kind of road trip across his home state. He visited a dozen cities and towns, from Pikeville, in the state’s Appalachian east, to Paducah, near where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi. He carried a sign that said “I’ll walk 400 miles if you promise to vote.”

He wants to bring attention to what he says is the most important election of our lifetimes and to open up conversations about why people do or don’t vote. 

 

“That was another kind of, you know, motivational piece to this,” he said. “How can we inspire people to not just register, but actually go out and vote?”

 

 


Ryland Barton

A coalition of Kentucky union groups organized a protest caravan on Thursday to call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to extend the $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits, which expired last week.

About two dozen cars, a semi truck and a mobile LED billboard circled the federal courthouse in Louisville, where McConnell has an office, honking their horns..

Part of the group organized by the AFL-CIO, Teamsters and other union groups eventually headed to McConnell’s neighborhood in the Highlands to protest, though he was still in Washington negotiating the latest coronavirus relief bill.

Kentucky legislature

The former executive director of the Kentucky Office of Unemployment Insurance told legislators Thursday the agency’s chaotic rush to deliver benefits in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic led to months-long delays — and may have violated federal unemployment regulations. 

Muncie McNamara testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment. The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first reported the details of McNamara’s time at the Office of Unemployment Insurance earlier this month; he was hired personally by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman in January and fired in May, amid the chaos of the pandemic.

Updated at 11:34 a.m. ET

New claims for unemployment benefits rose last week for the first time in four months — since March 28 — as states began reimposing lockdown restrictions in an effort to reverse a surge of coronavirus cases.

More than 1.4 million new claims were filed during the week ending July 18, an increase of more than 100,000 over the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Kentucky’s official unemployment rate is trending downward since swelling to more than 15 percent at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. 

June’s jobless rate was 4.3 percent, mirroring the rate recorded for the state one year ago.

Kentucky's current unemployment rate is also much lower than the national average of 11.1 percent. The number of Kentuckians employed in June increased by 28,536 while the number of unemployed decreased by 137,600.

Bytemarks via Creative Commons

Kentucky is still processing about 50,000 unemployment claims made during March, April and May, though state officials said on Wednesday that contractors have started working through the backlog this week.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration announced last week that the state will pay professional services firm Ernst & Young $7.4 million to help process the backlog with 300 workers.

During a meeting of the legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Appropriations and Revenue on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Mike Nemes said he had “quite a few problems” with the contract, arguing that the state could have saved money by hiring more state employees.

Ryland Barton

As Kentucky continues to struggle with a backlog of unemployment claims dating back to March, appointments to get in-person assistance with unfilled claims are now booked through August.

Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration set up an online portal for people to sign up for in-person help with unemployment benefits late last week, but the slots quickly filled up this week.

According to the state’s career center website, in-person appointments at the Kentucky Labor Cabinet building in Frankfort were booked through August 25 (as of Friday afternoon).

Bytemarks via Creative Commons

The state of Kentucky has hired an outside contractor to speed up the processing of unemployment claims. The coronavirus created nearly one million jobless claims in the commonwealth. 

Gov. Andy Beshear's administration has entered into a one-month contract with Ernst and Young to fix the massive backlog of applications. Three hundred of the accounting firm’s employees will begin processing claims on Monday, July 6. During a news conference on Tuesday, Beshear acknowledged the public's frustration with busy phone lines and lack of in-person assistance.

“The reality that we hear is that they can’t get somebody talking to them to fix their claim. We’re quadrupling our workforce," Beshear said. "They’re going to start calling people with the oldest claims first.”

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As the Ohio Valley continues its phased-in reopening, unemployment insurance claims are down slightly compared to the week before. The region is still reporting high levels of unemployment assistance applications.

At least 82,011 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor shows about 1.8 million unemployment claims around the country for the week ending May 30, bringing the country’s total jobless applicants to almost 42 million since mid-March. 

Becca Schimmel

As some businesses in the Ohio Valley reopen and welcome back both customers and employees the region continues reporting high levels of unemployment claims. 

At least 100,863 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are making progress on unemployment claims filed in March as states begin a phased-in reopening. 

Ohio Valley Making Progress On Unemployment Backlog

May 14, 2020
Becca Schimmel

Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are making progress on unemployment claims filed in March as states begin a phased-in reopening. 

New unemployment insurance claims are still reaching unprecedented levels across the Ohio Valley region.

 

At least 125,459 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That surge in claims is in addition to the more than two million unemployment assistance applications people in the Ohio Valley made since mid-March. 

Ohio Valley Hitting Plateau Of Unemployment Claims

May 7, 2020
Bytemarks via Creative Commons.

New unemployment insurance claims are starting to reach a plateau but are still hitting unprecedented levels across the Ohio Valley region.

At least 154,102 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That surge in claims is in addition to the more than one million unemployment assistance applications people in the Ohio Valley made since mid-March. 

 

The data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showing more than 3.1 million unemployment claims around the country for the week ending May 2, bringing the country’s total jobless applicants to over 33 million since mid-March. 

Becca Schimmel / WKU Public Radio/Ohio Valley ReSource

New unemployment insurance claims in the Ohio Valley began to taper off this week as states make their way through the backlog of applications amid business closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic. But local economies still face a staggering number of unemployed, and many of those who are out of work are still awaiting help. 

About 211,000 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia joined those seeking help during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

The latest claims push the regional total to nearly 1.8 million unemployment assistance applications from people in the Ohio Valley since mid-March. 


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