Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner released a television ad this morning saying that Kentucky lost 20,000 jobs over the last two years, promising to enact reforms that would turn around Kentucky’s rapid job loss if he is elected this fall.

An hour later, Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet issued a press release touting the state’s rapid job growth over the last month, as employment increased by 10,522, the number of unemployed decreased by 4,712, and the unemployment rate dropped from 5.5 to 5.2 percent. Additionally, the cabinet cited a federal survey showing that 43,000 jobs were created since last February, with the unemployment rate dropping more than 2 percent.

Gov. Steve Beshear released a statement to Insider Louisville about the claims in Heiner’s ad, saying the Republican candidate is “just plain wrong — either he’s intentionally misleading Kentuckians or he can’t do math. The facts are we have added thousands of jobs.”

So which one is right? Depending on your interpretation and without the full context of the labor market, one could make an argument that they both are technically correct. However, we’re about full context, so let’s take a closer look at the accuracy of both claims.

Heiner’s ad specifically cites figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from December 2012 through December 2014 in Kentucky. If you’re looking at just the number of employed individuals in the labor force, that number from last year is 19,217 lower than two years earlier — not quite the round number Heiner uses for “lost jobs,” but fairly close.

However, the figure Heiner uses does not take into account two additional numbers: the total workforce seeking employment and the number of unemployed individuals. The number of people unemployed actually plummeted by nearly 58,000 over those two years, as did the total labor force — those either employed or actively seeking work — by nearly 77,000. Over that time, the unemployment rate fell by 2.6 percent.

But even looking at just the total employment figures Heiner used, his number would have been less robust had he used the more recent figures for January that have been available for nearly a month. Looking at January 2013 through January 2015, the number of employed fell by a considerably smaller amount of 12,000. Taking into account the new February numbers out today, the number of employed over that two-year period fell by only 819 — a far cry from “20,000.”

Nevertheless, the dramatic decline in the labor force over the last two years is alarming, as fewer people are actively looking for work — and perhaps inflating the significance of the rapidly declining unemployment rate.

However, Manoj Shanker — an economist with the cabinet’s Office of Employment and Training — tells IL the declining labor force is actually a demographic phenomenon that is partly due to people finally feeling comfortable enough to retire as the economy recovers.

“The first wave of baby boomers hit 62 in 2009 — during the heart of the Great Recession,” wrote Shanker in an email. “Their savings and 401(k) accounts were hit badly by the sharp decline in the stock market. Basically, they couldn’t afford to retire. Finally, in 2013 and 2014 the stock market recovered and then swung into high gear. We didn’t just see people who were 65 years of age leaving the labor force, but also those who turned 65 in 2009, 2010, 2011… because finally they could all afford to retire.”

Shanker also emphasizes that there is a distinct difference between the number of individuals “employed” and the number of “jobs” — the latter of which Heiner used in his ad — saying the number of non-farm jobs actually went up by 43,000 over the timeframe Heiner used in his ad.

Citing those numbers, Beshear added: “Once again, political candidates are entitled to their own opinions but not entitled to their own facts – and these facts override Hal Heiner’s political ambition.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]