Bell County’s unemployment rate remains high despite overall positive trends in Kentucky.
The state’s unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent for the first time in four years last month. Unfortunately, those numbers are not reflective of Bell County’s employment picture.
The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training reported Thursday that the January rate was down to 7.9 percent. However, Bell County’s jobless rate hovered at 13.5, according to Cathy Owens,who works at the Middlesboro Office of Employment and Training.
Owens, who serves Bell and Harlan counties, noted Harlan’s unemployment rate continues to be high as well.
Owens pointed out that much of the area’s economy is affected by the coal business. The coal industry has been hard hit in recent months with layoffs stemming from decline in demand, environmental battles for permits and mines shutting down for good.
As a result of the layoffs, Bell and Harlan are seeing high unemployment rates.
“It’s a trickle-down effect. When the coal mines layoff, people quit shopping. Wives quit getting their hair done, their nails done and they’re not going out buying new cars…it affects every business in town,” said Owens of the local economic challenges.
Kentucky needs coal for electricity, but Bell County needs coal for jobs.
Coal isn’t the regions’ only hiccup. Owens said last year’s shutdown of Tru-Seal Technologies Inc. in Knox County was a blow to the unemployment rate for the county as well.
“They employed a lot of people with good jobs and good benefits,” said Owens about Tru-Seal closure.
Owens was especially resourceful when talking about employment numbers within the region.
She has worked out of the Middlesboro office for 26 years, currently managing multiple county employment offices in particular Bell and Harlan.
Owens said she sees her job as a “calling” and enjoys helping people find jobs.
Michael Pippin can be contacted via phone at 606-248-1010, ext. 204.