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How Will Kentucky Candidates Address Income, Workforce Issues?

The state remains among the lowest in both workforce participation rate and median family income, as it has been for decades.

Much has been made of the state of Kentucky’s economy over the course of the last few months.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has aired commercials and speechified about the state’s positive momentum, citing big economic development initiatives like the record-breaking electric vehicle battery plants coming to Hardin County and other infrastructure investments.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron and PACs supporting him in television ads attempt to tie Beshear to Biden, who they say is mainly responsible for worsening inflation in America. Cameron is the Republican challenger in this year’s gubernatorial election.

Beyond pure political messaging, candidates are also armed with facts that point to the state’s economy improving or worsening.

Cameron talks often about record-high inflation, influenced by Washington action, having squeezed Kentucky consumers and Beshear not fully supporting income tax cuts that let Kentuckians keep more of their pay. Additionally, the attorney general hits Beshear on the stagnating number of Kentuckians employed as well as a low workforce participation rate and a worsening, though flawed, real household median income statistic over time.

Beshear mentions Kentucky’s high rankings among economic development trade experts (number two per capita, according to Site Selection Magazine), the state’s record economic development haul ($27.5 billion, more than any other governor’s term), personal income growth and more on the stump and the debate stage.

There’s a factual basis for all these claims.

It’s also a fact that Kentucky remains among the lowest – as has been the case for decades under governors and legislatures both Democratic and Republican – in both workforce participation rate and median family income.

So the Herald-Leader asked both campaigns how they’d deal with it.

Cameron focused his answer on shrinking government – via Medicaid cuts for certain individuals and cutting the income tax – as a way to spur economic prosperity. Beshear referenced continued deal-making and investments in public education and workforce development as the way forward.

Q: Kentucky’s workforce participation rate is the 6th-lowest in the nation. Should we be worried about that figure, and if so what are the concrete steps we should take to address it? Kentucky has the 5th-lowest median family income for a family of four. What should be done to raise that number?

Cameron: You can’t address problems if you pretend they don’t exist. My opponent lies about the number of people working and calls inflation “temporary.” I will confront these challenges head on.

There is dignity in work. We must get able-bodied people working again and off the unemployment rolls. That’s why as governor, I’ll add work requirements for able-bodied individuals on Medicaid with exemptions for those who are taking care of family or pursuing an education. I’ll also fix our unemployment system, which remains in shambles after its collapse in 2020. We have 80,000 people on unemployment and Beshear has left the broken system in place.

Lastly, I will be the governor who eliminates the income tax. I believe your money belongs to you and not the government. Our tax code should be simple and competitive with surrounding states. We can raise family income by growing our economy and cutting taxes.

Beshear: In my first term, we’ve seen the best three years of economic development in Kentucky on record, with over $27 billion of private sector investment. Already, we’ve achieved the lowest unemployment rate in state history, and these three years of record investment will lead to 30 years of prosperity for Kentuckians. It’s important to continue to focus on making Kentucky the best place possible to start a business.

With these investments, we have the opportunity to turn our brain drain into a brain gain—both by attracting new talent to Kentucky, and also lifting up every Kentuckian so they can be a part of our economic success. That means investing in public education and workforce training. My administration has been focused on bringing good-paying jobs to every corner of our Commonwealth and delivering the education and training opportunities to allow Kentuckians to fill those jobs.

©2023 Lexington Herald-Leader. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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