For the first time in more than seven years, Kentucky's unemployment rate is not higher than the nation's.
The state Office of Employment and Training announced Thursday that the state's jobless rate fell to a preliminary 8.2 percent in May from 8.3 percent in April. Meanwhile, the nation's unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2 percent in May from 8.1 percent in April.
It was the 10th consecutive month that the state's jobless rate has declined.
"It is great news for Kentucky," said Manoj Shanker, economist for the Office of Employment and Training.
But Shanker and other leading economists in the state cautioned against too much celebration.
Part of the reason is that the unemployment rate considers only people who are actively looking for jobs to be part of the labor force. With the economy improving, Shanker noted, more of the long-term unemployed who have become discouraged and dropped out of the labor force might re-enter it and drive the unemployment rate back up.
"It's good news, but things can change," Shanker said. "The best news is that we're moving in the right direction. That's the good thing."
Some of economists' concern also has to do with the history of the gap between Kentucky and the nation.
One of the primary reasons Kentucky's unemployment rate has been worse than the nation's for so long is the state's reliance on the manufacturing industry, which has seen much upheaval in recent years.
While manufacturing has been weak for some time, it's now relatively strong by comparison, said Ken Troske, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky's Gatton College of Business and Economics.
"We are much more dependent on manufacturing than the typical state," he said. "Because of that, our employment situation is going to be more affected by that."
That's been helpful recently with hiring by companies including General Electric and Ford, as well as new jobs in other industries.
Bob Quick, chief executive of Commerce Lexington, said the news is encouraging because of its broad scope.
"It tells us we're doing a lot of the right things well, and we're building the infrastructure we need across Kentucky, not just in one area or another," he said. "However, we've got to always keep in mind there are many people without jobs and press ... to create new jobs that those people need."
As those jobs are created, Troske noted, the state should attempt to foster a more diverse economy to reduce the impact of a single large sector like manufacturing.
For now, that sector's relative health is helping offset problems in other sectors such as government and mining and logging. The latter has seen layoffs in recent months as a warm winter reduced demand on coal for electricity. Also, utilities have begun plans to switch to natural gas-fired power plants to comply with more stringent federal environmental regulations.
Troske said government employment is "one troubling aspect," but he noted that the mining industry's woes will not have a major effect on the state.
Mining is "less than 1 percent of overall employment," he said. "In certain parts of the state, it's a significant employer, but overall it doesn't have much of an impact on the unemployment rate."
Troske said a major area of concern remains the European economy.
"There's a large export sector in Kentucky, and Western Europe is a significant market for the goods we make in this state," he said. "The problems they're having could potentially start to have an impact."
But overall, the dose of good news Thursday is a start.
"The trends have been good," Troske said. "You can't argue with that.
"But there's still much uncertainty. Our economy still isn't where we want it to be."