Unemployment in Rural and Urban Areas of Eastern Kentucky

Comparing urban and rural unemployment rates in Eastern Kentucky, and offering viable solutions.

By Audrianna R. Taber from Morehead Writing Project in Kentucky

There are many naturally beautiful places in the United States, from the popular destination of Yellowstone National Park to the Daniel Boone National Forest in Eastern Kentucky. Yet within the beauty of the Daniel Boone National Forest are rural towns that are structurally weak and lacking employment opportunities. Therefore, unemployment is greater in Eastern Kentucky than in the United States overall. Even though these hardships exist there are some viable solutions to the problem.

According to the USDA, the average annual growth rate for rural unemployment was 0.5 percent, but it was 1.8 percent in urban areas through 2010 to 2017. Also, in 2018 non-metro unemployment was at 4.2 percent, while metro unemployment was 3.9 percent. So although rural unemployment is only 0.3 percent more than urban unemployment, the average growth rate of urban unemployment is still greater.

In the rural area of Morgan county the unemployment rate as of January 1, 2019, was at 5.4 percent, while in the urban area of Fayette county, the unemployment rate was 3.6 percent according to FRED. Also, the unemployment rate in Jefferson county (located in Western Kentucky) is at 4.3 percent. Jefferson and Fayette counties both hold large cities, unlike Morgan county. Therefore, the unemployment rate is greater in Morgan county as there are not as many job opportunities like there are in the cities.

Neighboring Morgan county is Elliott county (population 7,508), where the unemployment rate was at a whopping 8.2 percent as of January 1, 2019. Then, in Bath county (population 12,500), the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent. Unemployment rates can be greater due to the number of retired living in the area, or if you travel out of your area for work. Either way, that is still only a fraction of the unemployed in the area.

In Morgan county, with just your high school diploma, you only have a few options for jobs, unlike Fayette county where there are multiple opportunities. Therefore, many people in rural areas travel to the city for work. Another reason that urban unemployment rates rise is due to people from rural areas moving to the city to be closer to work. Unfortunately, not everyone has the resources to make the move, so many just make the commute. Most of the commutes or moves can be due to the low wages in the rural areas in which people live.

Dylan Hollon is a Morgan county local who travels 5 days a week to and from Lexington, Kentucky, daily. Dylan exclaimed, “I dislike the long car rides, but that is where the money is at.” So although the travel is lengthy, he is making the best money in the city rather than working locally. Also, rather than waiting for a job locally, Dylan said, “I got the job as soon as I applied.” Savannah Watson, a friend of mine, did not get a part time job at IGA until a month after applying. Dylan also stated, “I have had two raises in the past year.” In the small community of West Liberty, the only way to get a raise in the small local businesses is by being upgraded to a higher position. There is a lack of employment opportunities in West Liberty compared to Lexington, and many people are just like Dylan and travel great distances for work

In Eastern Kentucky there are more dry counties than in Western Kentucky. Overall, there are 15 dry counties, and 9 are in Eastern Kentucky. In an article from Booze Boost, a study (2010) done on Benton county, located in Arkansas, found that if they legalized alcohol sales, within two years the sales would have made an economic impact of $33,044,013. Bessie Ferguson, an insurance adviser in Morgan county, exclaimed, “While being a county secretary in a dry county, I realized what type of tax revenue was being lost to wet counties, money that could help improve roads, venues, etc. Plus create a few more jobs.” Not only would legalizing alcohol bring in more money for a county, it would bring in jobs. Although it will not create an abundance of jobs, a few job opportunities are better than none. Overall, just a few jobs may be able to lower a county's unemployment rate significantly.

In Morgan county there is a Mexican restaurant that doesn't serve alcohol due to Morgan county being a dry county, and many Mexican restaurants sell alcohol. Therefore, with the legalization of alcohol in Morgan County, Mi Acapulco could boost revenue from alcohol sales. Other local businesses could also benefit from being able to sell alcohol, such as the Dollar General stores.

In a small community like Morgan County, everybody knows everybody and people are super caring and giving of one another. Having a community like that is a great thing for small town entrepreneurs, especially when you know what the people want and provide that. For example, if everyone wants a local taco restaurant, the community might be willing to fund a person who is saving up for a taco truck. Everybody loves tacos! Also, Morehead State University offers small business development in many counties in Eastern Kentucky, including Morgan county. Unfortunately, there are not many people who are looking to venture out into building a business, but when people do, it opens jobs in the community. In Morgan county there have been 3 new businesses in the past six years that local entrepreneurs have provided; Plum Charming Boutique, Aunt Bubba’s Coffee Shop and Cafe, and Morgan Gun and Pawn. All three businesses are very popular among the local community.

In Eastern Kentucky there is a struggle with getting employed in urban areas. Eastern Kentucky alone has worse unemployment than anywhere in the United States. Fortunately, things can be done, such as legalizing alcohol sales in the 9 dry counties or funding local entrepreneurs for a small business. So although the Daniel Boone National Forest is beautiful and filled with peace, there is a struggle for the people living within.

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