Unemployment down to pre-pandemic levels

Businesses, governor incentivize return to workforce

There’s been a striking drop in unemployment rates compared to 2020 in all 120 of Kentucky’s counties, according to a press release from Gov. Andy Beshear’s office. For Boyle, according to data compiled by the Kentucky Center for Statistics, the unemployment rate was 4.1% for both April and May 2021, compared to 11.8% in May 2020.

Jody Lassiter, president/CEO for the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, noted the change was even more striking compared to April 2020’s rate, which was a staggering approximately 19.8%, around when the pandemic was at a peak.

Things seem to be looking up.

“We’ve essentially returned to pre-pandemic unemployment levels,” Lassiter said.

In looking on the job site Indeed.com, which Lassiter said he uses as one “weather vane” of unemployment in the area or available jobs, as of Monday afternoon there were 906 job postings in Danville alone. That’s across the board, Lassiter said — office, professional, retail, hospitality, and industry jobs.

Lassiter said Develop Danville, Inc. (the EDP) has been aggressively using social media for job outreach. Their audience is within about a 50-mile radius and expands beyond their immediate page followers.

Several postings, including a June 23 post about Honeywell’s new starting pay for entry level positions at $21 an hour, have done well. That post as of Monday morning had 50,249 views and had been shared more than 780 times.

“It’s that kind of aggressiveness with wages and reaching out and promoting your positions through innovative ways, such as with social media, that grabs attention,” Lassiter said.

The EDP also launched an approximately three-month campaign, which concluded May 31, to advertise available jobs in the county and the quality of life in the community for anyone who might want to relocate. They reapplied funds up to $30,000 in a digital marketing campaign to promote jobs in the most active sectors with the most openings: healthcare, industry and education.

They ran advertisements on various mobile apps and website and reached out within about a 100-mile radius, to ensure they reached metropolitan areas Louisville and Lexington, where they received many of their impressions.

“We had over 2 million impressions during the course of our campaign, those who saw the advertisement, and we really feel as if we met our objective of getting the message out that there are jobs that are available,” Lassiter said.

With a tightening labor force, employers need to “up their game to be able to have a sufficient number of qualified and quality applicants to do the jobs that they need to have filled,” Lassiter said, especially with the large number of job openings Danville has.

“So that’s certainly going to put an upward pressure on wages,” he continued. “We’ve already seen for several months now in Danville alone several of our industries that are providing bonuses, sign-on bonuses, the largest of which is LSC Communications, (which) is providing a sign-on bonus for $1,000.”

And there’s a variety of tactics employers will utilize, he said, especially because there are a variety of factors keeping some people from returning to work. Some people may still have reservations about getting back into the workforce, have child daycare issues or may prefer a remote work environment, he said.

So employers could advertise remote work where possible, starting benefits 31 days into employment, immediate paid time off, bonuses after a certain number of months — for example, Kimball International is offering a $500 hiring bonus after six months — flexible work hours or other perks.

“I think it’s got to be a larger package of incentives, not solely tied to cash, that makes the workplace, the job opportunities that are offered by an employer, the most attractive,” Lassiter said.

When it comes to Gov. Beshear’s new incentive plan announced in a press release, which will “pay as many as 15,000 Kentuckians on unemployment insurance a one-time $1,500 bonus to rejoin the workforce by July 30” and “set aside $22.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to pay for the program to incentivize more people to leave unemployment insurance and begin filling job vacancies throughout the commonwealth,” Lassiter said it’s too soon to tell what kind of impact this will have locally, especially because several businesses are offering incentives already.

“There are just so many others in the market at present that are offering similar types of bonuses that could be as successful as the governor’s,” he said.

Based on what he’s seen so far with increased sign-on bonuses and especially the increased starting wage announced by Honeywell, “That has definitely met with a great deal of enthusiasm with job applicants,” he said.

“It’s certainly a job seeker’s market,” Lassier said. “And so now is the opportune time to return to the workforce or to improve your employment opportunities, so don’t miss out.”