Kentucky governor touts record-low jobless rate as general election campaign begins

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s jobless rate sank to its lowest level ever last month, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday in touting a booming economy at the start of his general election campaign for a second term.

The state’s seasonally adjusted, preliminary unemployment rate dipped to 3.7% in April, down 0.1 percentage points from the prior month, the governor said at his weekly news conference.

It’s the lowest monthly unemployment rate on record in the Bluegrass State, he said.

“Our record-breaking economy is what can happen when we put politics aside and focus on moving the state forward and doing what is best for all our families,” Beshear said.

The historically low jobless rate comes as the governor shifts his reelection campaign into high gear against Republican challenger Daniel Cameron in what could be the nation’s most hotly contested election this year — one that could hinge on pocketbook issues. The matchup could provide insight about voter sentiment heading into 2024 elections to determine control of the White House and Congress.

Cameron and other Republicans say the governor takes credit for pro-growth policies championed by the GOP-dominated legislature. And they point to sluggish workforce participation rates that have left some businesses struggling to find enough workers, as Republicans try to counter Beshear’s rosy economic message that includes a record-setting pace of economic development during his term. Fewer people in Kentucky are working now than when the governor took office, said state Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard, citing federal statistics.

“The governor continues to use his podium to mislead Kentuckians about the state of the economy under his and Joe Biden’s leadership,” Southard said in a statement.

He said that Cameron will promote a “culture that rewards work.” Republicans also have tried to link the governor to high inflation that has marked Biden’s term as president.

Kentuckians went to the polls Tuesday to nominate Beshear and Cameron, the state’s attorney general, to top the November statewide ballot in what will be a tumultuous showdown for governor.

Two days later, Beshear opened his regular news conference by touting the record-low unemployment rate, as well as reprising past job growth announcements and updating his economic development record. The governor takes his message on the road Friday when he starts a bus tour across Kentucky.

The state’s persistently low jobless rate reflects its recovery from the economic depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, Kentucky’s unemployment rate surged to 16.5% amid virus-related shutdowns.

Last month, the governor announced that statewide job growth had surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with nearly 46,000 more jobs than in February 2020.

Since his term started in late 2019, Beshear said, he has announced more than 852 private-sector new-location and expansion projects totaling nearly $29 billion in investments, as well as about 46,000 new full-time jobs. That record could give him an advantage, barring unforeseen developments in the economy.

“If the race is based on the economy and on bread-and-butter, pocketbook issues, that’s much better for Gov. Beshear,” GOP political consultant T.J. Litafik said Thursday.

But the situation varies, with some areas lagging behind in employment opportunities, especially in coal-producing counties suffering from the loss of mining jobs, he said. Cameron has touted his support for coal production and blasted national Democratic policies that he blames for the industry’s hardships.

“In those pockets, Beshear will have to work hard to communicate with those voters,” Litafik said.

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