The health of the U.S. economy will likely be a decisive issue in this year’s election with 1 in 3 American adults stating it influences their voting choices. However, the condition of the country’s economy is dependent on the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that comprise it. As the states go, so goes the nation.

A SeniorLiving.org economic health study, which ranked the states from best to worst in nine key categories — including unemployment rate and annual wage using the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis — sandwiched Kentucky (50th) between Oklahoma (49th) and Mississippi (51st) at the bottom.

The Bluegrass State only earned a 97 rating — a fraction compared to the top three states: Massachusetts (381), Colorado (375) and California (351).

Even though the national unemployment rate has dropped to just 3.5%, Kentucky tied with Washington for the seventh worst in the country at 4.4%. Alaska was the worst with 6.1%. Over a one-year period, from November 2018 to November 2019, the state tied with Idaho, North Carolina, New York and Pennsylvania for the highest unemployment rate increase (0.1%). Mississippi was the worst with a 0.9% increase and Alabama, which ranked first, saw a 1.1% decrease in the jobless rate.

Kentucky also fared poorly in the average annual wage category, tying with South Carolina ($43,210). Only five states — Mississippi ($39,420), Arkansas ($41,540), South Dakota ($41,800), West Virginia ($42,370) and Louisiana ($42,660) — did worse. Washington, D.C., ($87,920) has the highest average income with Massachusetts ($63,910) a distant second.

The news isn’t all negative. The bourbon industry, which brought in $485 million in exports last year and employs more than 20,000 workers, continues to pump the state's economy.

Kentucky leads the nation in the exportation of whiskey and barrel-making products. In fact, the state exported $234 million worth of casks, barrels, vats and wood parts in 2019 — a 1,080% increase over 15 years.

The state is also developing a diversified export portfolio with motor vehicles (more than $2.8 billion); pharmaceuticals and medicines (more than $2.4 billion); motor vehicle parts (nearly $1.4 billion); and resin, synthetic rubber, artificial and synthetic fibers and filament (more than $900 million).

While we want to believe the economy is headed in the right direction, we urge lawmakers and elected officials to keep the pedal to the metal and continue to look for ways to expand market opportunities for Kentucky businesses.

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