Kentucky now has about 20,000 more jobs today than it had in 2007, just before the start of the last recession.

But more than half of all Kentucky jobs — 56 percent — are in the Louisville-Lexington areas, Paul Coomes, senior consulting economist for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, wrote in the chamber’s “The Current Economic Expansion,” which is being released on Sunday, Dec. 27.

Fifty-eight percent of wages and salaries — $19.7 billion — is earned in those two regions, he wrote.

And 47 percent of the new jobs have been in Jefferson and Fayette counties.

Fifty-six largely rural counties have continued to lose jobs over the past six years, Coomes wrote.

“The main economy is between I-65 and I-75,” he said during a teleconference last week.

“Kentucky as a whole added jobs — 7.4 percent — at a slower clip than the U.S. — 8.4 percent — but greater than the growth rate of all our border states except Tennessee and Indiana,” Coomes said.

However, the percentage of adults with jobs continues to lag behind the national average, he said.

Only 52.9 percent of adults in the Owensboro-Henderson area are working, the report says.

The national average is 57.7 percent, and the state average is 54.3 percent.

Why are so many people not working with the state’s unemployment rate down to 4.8 percent?

“In many rural counties, there are a large number of people on disability,” David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said last week. “And baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day. Their 401(k)s have rebounded somewhat, and people who had delayed retirement can now afford to retire.”

Coomes’ report divides the state into nine regions — nine economies — based roughly on television markets.

“People drive so far to hospitals, movies, restaurants and work today,” he said, in explaining why he divided the state that way.

The Owensboro-Henderson region stretches from the edge of Lake Barkley on the west to Hancock County on the east, and from the Ohio River to Muhlenberg County.

The other eight regions are Lexington, Mountains, Cumberland, Bowling Green-Hopkinsville, Paducah-Purchase, Louisville, Northern Kentucky and Ashland.

Daviess adds 3,011 jobs

Daviess County has added 3,011 jobs since June 2009, Coomes said. That’s an increase of 7.1 percent, bringing the total to 45,206.

But for the larger Owensboro-Henderson region, the percentage of growth was only 4.3 percent, Coomes said.

Wages and salaries in the region have grown 21.5 percent since 2009, he said. The state average is 21.6 percent and the national average is 24.5 percent.

However, the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis says hourly earnings in Owensboro have dropped 1.8 percent in the past year.

Adkisson, former Owensboro mayor and former president of what’s now the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, said the fact that Kentucky is not a right-to-work state hurts recruiting.

“In Owensboro, we did lose several prospects because Kentucky is not a right-to-work state,” he said. “There were a significant number of jobs involved. Kentucky is still losing several thousand jobs a year because we’re not a right-to-work state. Being a right-to-work states indicates that a state is open for business.”

Coomes said wages in Kentucky are not growing as fast as they are in the rest of the country.

“It reflects the types of jobs we’re getting — distribution, call centers, services,” he said. “A lot of our manufacturing is assembling, which has lower wages than some other types of manufacturing.

“Manufacturers are not paying what they were before the recession.”

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