Across the state, employers of all types — manufacturers, banks, governments and even hospitals, part of the typically strong health-care industry — have laid off employees in recent years.
Kentucky's unemployment rate has fallen in recent months, but it continues to trail the national measure. The state's jobless rate might be primed to rise again as those who had given up on finding jobs try again. Once they begin searching for a job again, they'll be counted as part of the rate, which is based only on active job seekers.
As the hard times persist for many, they have looked to the government for answers in what has become a constant topic in election stump speeches.
Affecting all ages
Dorian Cloyd, 23, has become a fixture at Central Kentucky job fairs. Since graduating from the University of Kentucky in May 2011, Cloyd said, he has found that converting his degree in marketing to entry-level work has been difficult.
He has moved back in with his parents, and other than some job shadowing, he has done odd jobs for his grandparents to make money.
Cloyd said he would like to see government officials sponsor larger job fairs and focus more on recent college graduates.
Cloyd's trouble finding a job is a consequence of a work force that has become flush with experienced talent as laid-off workers in all fields look to snap up jobs that once would have been ideal for recent grads.
Cloyd said he made it to the final stage of hiring for one entry-level job but was passed over in favor of an older worker with more experience.
"It's pretty rough coming out of college and they're wanting you to have so much experience," he said. "I feel like I could do the job, but I'm not getting the opportunity.
"How do you get experience when no one's giving you a chance?"
He has changed his approach and is seeking any type of job with a company in hopes of then transferring to a marketing job with the company.
He has not yet decided whom he will vote for for President.
"I'm waiting a little bit longer," he said.
Finding work also is difficult for older workers, such as Helen Sorrell of Lexington.
Sorrell said she handled sales and programming for nearly 30 years at the Christian radio station WJMM until new ownership bought the station and brought in its own people.
"I really need a job more than I do money, if you can understand that," Sorrell said. "I wake up in the mornings, and I'm used to hurrying up and getting to work. Now it doesn't matter."
Sorrell said she looks for a new job on occasion but isn't computer savvy.
"People say, 'Mrs. Sorrell, at your age, why would you want to work?'" she said. "I'm always dismayed when they say that. I guess I don't have a good realization that I'm 82."
She said she has faith in President Barack Obama "that he can and will do all that he can to turn this around."
"I trust him," she said. "When I think of him, I think of Kennedy and Roosevelt. I trust him, but I don't trust his opponent."
It might seem surprising, but Lisa Currey of Nicholasville quit her job at a community assistance organization in August.
The decision came after coping with the death of her mother from brain cancer.
"I was under a lot of stress," she said. She grew tired of working with people who seemed unappreciative. "I came back to work right after my mom's death, and it was horrendous. I got cussed out.
"When you have the kind of experience I had just had with my mom, the things of this world seem insignificant."
Since then, Currey has looked for work but has found employers delaying hiring.
"Either they're really slow or I'm really patient," said the single mother of children ages 15 and 19. "I'm ready to go back to work.
"We're OK right now, but I need a job."
She has been offered a couple jobs, but the pay wasn't adequate.
"How do I pay my bills with $8.50 an hour, and I know my skills are so much more than that?" she said. She said she has run offices and managed multiple financial accounts for organizations.
Currey said she hopes the government will expand its programs to assist single mothers.
"We have 50 women to choose from for Miss America, and we have two choices for president," she said. "I think that's the craziest thing."
The registered independent said she expects to vote Republican in the election.
"I have always voted Republican and probably will," she said.
Justin Locke, 24, attended Eastern Kentucky University after returning from active military duty in 2010. He said he got bored with classes and withdrew during the summer, because he's more interested in working.
"Sitting in a classroom for eight hours is not my thing," said the former aircraft carrier culinary specialist, who helped prepare meals for as many as 8,000 people.
He said he is not interested in food service, but he attended a job fair for veterans last week and was intrigued by a number of positions.
"It's very competitive," he said. "Thank goodness I'm a veteran, since we're normally given preference."
Miner laments job loss
Coal mining accounts for less than 1 percent of overall employment in the state, but the industry has received perhaps more discussion during the election season than any other industry.
Mining has seen layoffs in recent months, as electricity producers have begun shunning coal because of factors including stricter federal environmental regulations and the falling price of natural gas.
With politicians assigning blame in what the industry calls a "war on coal," you might ask, what's a war without casualties?
Meet Allen Black, who was laid off in April from his job operating bulldozers at Booth Energy surface mines. The timing couldn't have been worse. Just two weeks earlier, the Johnson County man bought a used 2010 Nissan Altima. He has since found that his unemployment check comes nowhere close to his previous annual pay of about $65,000.
"I've pretty well drained my 401(k)," he said. "I've got a son in school at Transylvania (University) in his sophomore year, and it hurts not being able to help him like I have in the past."
It has also meant fewer visits home for his son.
"He was home this past weekend, and that was the first trip he's made home this semester," Black said recently. "I haven't been able to afford to get him here."
Black equates his job hunt to "trying to find a glass of water in a desert."
He plans to vote for Mitt Romney. "I know what the last four years have done, and I can't handle four more years of that."
As in most industries, the layoffs by mining companies have rippled through the economy.
Charles Parsley worked as a regional sales director for a company that sells communications equipment for underground mines. With mining companies cutting back, so, too, did his company, which laid him off in late June.
Now the military veteran is finding it tough to get hired in a similar leadership role.
"This has been the longest period of time I've been unemployed in my life, and it's driving me crazy," he said. "I'm lucky I set aside enough money, but that doesn't last forever."
Parsley, an Army veteran, said he wishes the government would put its veterans to work with temporary jobs until they can find full-time positions.
"It would be a good service and a good return service for the vets," he said.
He also said the country's political leadership is far from impressive.
"We haven't had a president since John F. Kennedy," he said. "They're trying to say what the country wants to hear. This country needs a president who has a backbone who says he thinks this is what's best for the country.
"I may not believe in your views, but I'll support your sturdiness on it if it makes sense."
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.