National policies haven’t helped Kentucky wages

Published 4:30 pm Monday, April 15, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Kentucky incomes were more stagnant than in most of the country from 2017 to 2018, according to research by Stateline, a non-profit news organization from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Stateline’s investigation into growth in per capita income in every state is evidence that national policies and international politics have been picking the economy’s winners and losers — and Kentucky has definitely landed in the loser’s bracket.

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Only Washington, D.C., and three other states — Nebraska, South Carolina and Vermont — had less growth than Kentucky in per capita income from 2017 to 2018. And all four of those jurisdictions already have higher per capita income than the Bluegrass state.

On average, wages grew in the U.S. by 1.4 percent after accounting for inflation, according to Stateline. In Kentucky, they only grew by 0.5 percent. Neighboring West Virginia had the biggest growth in the nation at 3 percent.

“Some of the biggest changes last year in income per capita, a measure of wealth, were in West Virginia and Illinois, where coal mines and mining equipment factories helped create more jobs, while Nebraska and Washington, D.C., lagged amid trade wars and government cutbacks,” according to the report.

International tariffs created by President Trump’s ongoing trade war with China and other countries hindered growth in agricultural states like Kentucky. Nebraska was the only state in the country with flat wages — 0 percent growth from 2017 to 2018. But without any growth, Nebraska’s per capita income is still about $52,000, while Kentucky’s is less than $42,000.

States with strong manufacturing bases and states with an outsized portion of tech jobs saw strong wage growth. So did many western states, apparently thanks to natural gas and coal jobs.

Kentucky has coal jobs, too, but if there were any gains made there, it would seem they were all but canceled out by the harm done to agriculture.

It’s not like Kentuckians work less hard or fewer hours than people in West Virginia, Washington, New York, Illinois or Wyoming (the top five states for wage growth). But while residents around the country are getting wealthier, we are benefitting less from recent economic changes and decisions, along with other states with big agricultural bases.

It would be nice to see some fresh policies that take this into account and attempt to give states like Kentucky the same attention to economic growth that other states have already gotten.

One program that might help is the newly announced “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” a $20 billion investment from the Federal Communications Commission that is intended to help connect up to 4 million homes and businesses in rural areas to high-speed internet over new “5G” networks during the next 10 years.

That’s a good step, though 4 million is only some of the rural homes and businesses that are essentially discriminated against in today’s modern economy because they lack a strong internet connection.

We need to see more; we don’t want rural America left out as the rest of the country prospers.