Economy

Things are looking up for some Kentucky workers. That’s according to a new report from the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The study says unemployment in 2015 returned to its pre-recession rate of 5.4 percent. The report also found that the gender wage gap is narrowing in the commonwealth. 

In 2015, women in Kentucky earned 86 cents to every dollar that men earned. That’s compared to 81 cents in 2014 and a mere 62 cents in 1979. A big part of that shift, according to the report, is that things have gotten worse for men. Many well-paying jobs in Kentucky typically held by men — including construction, manufacturing and mining jobs — have disappeared.

“Those have typically provided good jobs to men, especially with lower levels of education,” said Anna Baumann, co-author of the report and policy analyst at the center.

However, durable goods manufacturing is growing. That sector has grown by more than 34,000 jobs, according to the report.

Forty percent of the reduction in the wage gap is due to declining earnings for men. Other factors include growth in individual sectors, like health care, and women gaining employment in formerly male-dominated fields.

The report also lauds policies such as the federal overtime rule that would require employers to pay workers earning less than $47,476 overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week. The law goes into effect Dec. 1.

Approximately 149,000 Kentuckians will be eligible for overtime pay under the new rule. Baumann said prior to the new rule, workers could be classified as administrative and professionals, even if they were low-wage workers. That made them ineligible for time-and-a-half pay for time worked over 40 hours.

“It’s just a good thing all around because it means that these people are going to get paid more for their work, or they will have better work-life balance,” she said. 

Other key findings from the report: Workers with a college degree are more likely to be employed, and workplace discrimination is one of many factors contributing to the racial wage gap. Baumann said other data estimate up to a third of the racial wage gap between blacks and whites is due to discrimination.  

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.