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Some 500 Letcher Co. workers lost jobs to COVID closures; 126 have returned to work

Letcher County lost a net of about 500 jobs as a result of COVID-19, and has recovered only 126 as the economy has reopened, state employment estimates show.

As of May, the last numbers available, state figures show the unemployment rate here was 13.3 percent, five percent less than the prior month, but more than double the rate in May 2019.

Letcher County’s rate is among the highest in eastern Kentucky, but was still lower than some surrounding counties.

The numbers from the Kentucky Center for Statistics have not been seasonally adjusted.

The largest jump in unemployment numbers came in April, when the percentage of unemployed here was 18 percent. In all, 739 Letcher County workers filed initial unemployment claims in April, and there was a total of 1,166 unemployed.

But while the unemployment rate has fallen here, so has the number of people in the workforce. The civilian workforce, which includes all employed persons and unemployed persons who are seeking work, was 6,280 in May, the latest numbers available. That’s down from a 6,563 in March, and from 6,489 in April, but slightly higher than May of 2019, when the labor force here was 6,224.

The labor force can fall for several reasons, but it often because workers become discouraged and stop looking for employment, or move out of the area.

Employment figures also show the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program area, which covers Letcher and 22 other eastern Kentucky counties, had 22,858 initial unemployment claims in April. The region still has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 12.6 percent.

Nearby counties and their May unemployment rates from low to high are: Owsley – 8.6; Bell – 10.3; Lee – 10.5; Wolfe – 10.7; Knott – 10.8; Johnson – 11.9; Pike – 12.2; Floyd – 12.3; Perry – 12.5; Breathitt – 12.8; Letcher – 13.3; Leslie – 14.2; Harlan –15.5; Magoffin – 20.5.

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