There’s quite a bit of good news these days when it comes to the Commonwealth’s unemployment numbers. 

The latest statistics from the state regarding unemployment are out, and they are most certainly very positive all things considered. I view them as very positive, in fact, when considering history and the bigger economic picture. 

Here in Rowan County, the final unemployment rate for 2018 was listed at 5.2 percent. This is an improvement from 5.8 percent in 2017. And, remarkably, the unemployment rate has improved in every county in the Gateway Area Development District during the same time frame.

In the district overall the unemployment rate dropped from 6.8 percent to 6 percent. In Bath County, it dropped from 7.9 percent to 6.7 percent. In Menifee County, it dropped from 8.8 percent to 7.6 percent. In Montgomery County, it dropped from 6.7 percent to 6 percent. And, in Morgan County, it dropped from 7.4 percent to 6.3 percent. The monthly stats for 2019 as of February show a slight uptick in the numbers for the counties but they appear to be pretty minimal.

Head east and the story thread is the same. In the FIVCO region, unemployment decreased across the board from 2017 to 2018. In Boyd County, it dropped from 7.2 percent to 5.9. In Carter County, it dropped from 9.9 percent to 9.2 percent. In Elliott County, it dropped from 10.7 percent to 9.3 percent. In Greenup, it dropped from 7.7 percent to 6.6 percent. And, in Lawrence County, it dropped from 9.1 percent to 7.2 percent.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Always is. Do these statistics mean anything if you were recently laid off or are currently looking for a good paying job and haven't had luck? Nope. However, they are indicative of improvement, and in rural counties across America, improvement is something to cherish when it comes to job numbers. They also indicate the obvious -- that right now we have, generally speaking, a very strong economy in Kentucky.

Some caveats are in order. Our rural eastern counties still lag behind metropolitan areas in other parts of the state. Also, unemployment rates aren't necessarily indicative of an individual's circumstances. If you are employed, but paid minimum wage, life is still brutal.

The state said in a press release the trend in improvement of economic numbers is similar across Kentucky. Annual unemployment rates decreased in 117 Kentucky counties in 2018 compared to 2017. There were only two counties, in Monroe and Owen counties, where unemployment rose, according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS), an agency within the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

The annual jobless rate for Woodford County was the lowest in the Commonwealth in 2018 at 3.1 percent. That is a remarkably low number by any standard. It was followed by Campbell, Fayette, Oldham and Scott counties, 3.3 percent each; Boone and Kenton counties, 3.4 percent each; Shelby County, 3.5 percent; and Anderson, Jessamine and Spencer counties, 3.6 percent each. Those are remarkably low statistics. 

Magoffin County recorded the state’s highest annual unemployment rate in 2018 at 13.2 percent. It was followed by Elliott County, 9.3 percent; Carter County, 9.2 percent; Lewis County, 8.4 percent; Wolfe County, 7.7 percent; Menifee County, 7.6 percent; Harlan County, 7.4 percent; Breathitt County, 7.3 percent; Lawrence County, 7.2 percent; and Clay, Leslie and Owsley counties, 7.1 percent each. In 2018, Magoffin County had an annual rate at or above 10 percent compared to four (Magoffin, Elliott, Leslie and Harlan) counties in 2017.

The unadjusted annual state unemployment rate for the state was 4.3 percent for 2018, and 3.9 percent for the nation. The national unadjusted 2018 annual rate of 3.9 percent, 98 Kentucky counties had higher 2018 annual rates, while 17 were lower and five (Calloway, Henry, Logan, Madison and Simpson counties) matched it.

Counties with the largest decline in annual unemployment rates from 2017 to 2018 were Magoffin and Leslie counties, -3.1 percentage points; Letcher County, -2.9 percentage points; Harlan County, -2.6 percentage points; Lee County, -2.2 percentage points; and Perry and Carlisle counties, -2 percentage points each.

So what does all this mean from a bigger picture perspective? In my view it is a good time to be looking for a job in a tight labor market. If you have in-demand skills, it might be a good time to ask for a raise if you have multiple offers. On the other end of the spectrum if you are an employer we suspect it is tough to find employees because they are probably already working somewhere else.

This, in my view, is a good problem to have because when the economy is strong the prospects of individual prosperity improve. When prosperity improves, so does quality of life.