The unemployment numbers for June 2020 were released recently, and the numbers look much better than they did in May.

It shows Hopkins County with 5.7% unemployment. This time last year the rate was 5.3%. The most recent numbers are down from 13.3% unemployment at the end of May.

The state unemployment rate at the end of June 2020 is 4.8%. The county with the lowest jobless rate is Carlisle with 3%. The highest rate is in Magoffin County with 11.7%.

“Many of the industrial sector companies are fully operational now, so many people have gone back to work, thus the decrease in unemployment,” said Ray Hagerman, president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation. “As I have said before, because of COVID-19, those numbers are largely irrelevant right now except for the general trend, since this was a shock to the system that won’t last permanently. Service companies that are much more at the mercy of limitations in numbers of customers, never really got fully back to capacity and now have to step back. Those are the companies and establishments most economically at risk.”

Randy Orten is a small-business owner and is concerned about his business. He runs a jewelry repair kiosk at Parkway Plaza Mall. He opened Regional Jewelry Repair in March 2000.

His business has been closed since March 20. Orten was able to file for unemployment online and had no trouble getting benefits.

But with the federal $600 aid expired, Orten said he plans to reopen his kiosk in the coming weeks. His biggest concern is the traffic flow at the mall.

“I could sit there 24 hours a day, seven days a week ... not making a penny,” Orten said.

From a small-business perspective, people can stay on a minimal unemployment or try to open back up with only a fraction of what sales normally would be, he added.

“It’s a scary time,” Orten said.

It is important to support the businesses in whatever capacity they are acting, Hagerman said. Restaurants have been limited by the state to 25% capacity and bars have been closed for two weeks. Businesses stand the risk of being cited and fined if they don’t comply with the mask mandate or ask that their customers wear the masks. The Hopkins County Health Department is leading the charge on local response to the pandemic.

“The customers need to either learn to comply with requirements and try to have some reasonable understanding of why it’s being done,” Hagerman said. “In the scheme of things, how hard is it to just wear a mask for the time you’re in the store? Businesses are just doing what they need to do to stay open, and to keep customers healthy.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, unemployment offices have been hit by an extreme uptick in claims.

For example, 1,114,100 Kentuckians applied for unemployment benefits between March 16 and July 25, according to data released by Wallet Hub, a personal finance website who released a study on the status of each state’s recovery so far during the pandemic.

In comparison to the same time last year, unemployment claims increased from 53,327. Kentucky has the ninth slowest unemployment claim recovery in the U.S., the study found.

The state’s unemployment office has had its share of ups and downs as it has tried to tackle the high volume of claims.

The office has had two security breaches that may have left Kentuckians’ personal information up for grabs. Then, the age of the computer system has kept thousands of residents unpaid. Calls to the unemployment office are unfruitful, asking callers to be put in a queue with a projected call back. Many never get a call.

In addition, the state unemployment director was fired in May.

Kentucky has hosted in-person services for unemployment in various cities, but the backlog remains high, more than 60,000, the Courier-Journal reports.

Gov. Andy Beshear has hired Ernst & Young, a private vendor, to help clear the backlog of claims built up since March. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet has said that the 60,000 claims are 95% complete and require final steps. Many of those claims were disputed ones, the Cabinet said.

Despite the unemployment woes across the state, there are plenty of jobs available locally. Most are listed on the website.

“Far and away the healthcare sector has the most openings, however these jobs require the most specific skills,” Hagerman said. “Education has a lot of openings, along with construction, industrial maintenance and logistics. Most of these type jobs were always considered essential so it makes sense the most openings would be in these areas.”

The local outlook on unemployment seems to be trending in a positive direction.

“I think we will see improvement over the next few weeks and months as incremental re-openings become more permanent,” Hagerman said. “I just hope we don’t see businesses that stay closed permanently.”

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