Gov. Steve Beshear accused Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner of misleading voters about Kentucky's economy in Heiner's latest television ad.
In the ad, the former Louisville councilman claims that Kentucky has lost 20,000 jobs in the past two years, calling the statistic "unacceptable."
"The politicians in Frankfort have no clue how to attract jobs," Heiner says in the ad.
Beshear, a Democrat in his eighth and final year in office, said in a statement Thursday that Heiner "is just plain wrong — either he's intentionally misleading Kentuckians or he can't do math."
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"The facts are we have added thousands of jobs," Beshear said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, total non-farm employment in Kentucky was 46,000 higher in 2014 than in 2012.
"Our unemployment rate just dropped again to 5.2 percent — that's lower than the national average for the seventh month in a row," Beshear said. "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."
Heiner's campaign, however, is relying on a different set of numbers from the BLS that counts the number of people employed, not the number of jobs in which they work. Those figures show that the number of employed Kentuckians dropped 19,217 from December 2012 to December 2014, from about 1.88 million to about 1.86 million.
"We stand by our ad," said Kyle Robertson, Heiner's campaign manager.
Economist Manoj Shanker at the state Office of Employment and Training said it's misleading to focus on the number of people employed rather than the number of jobs, because the first number doesn't account for people who went back to school or retired.
"The job market in Kentucky is doing really well," Shanker said. "For example, in February, 1,400 new non-farm jobs were created compared to the previous month. Compared to a year ago, i.e. February 2014, the Kentucky economy added 43,000 jobs."
Shanker said the retirement factor, in particular, should be considered because the baby boomer generation first became eligible for retirement in 2009. "Kentucky's labor force has come down quite dramatically," Shanker said. "That's mainly because of retirement."
Shanker said that "the first wave of baby boomers hit 62 in 2009 — during the heart of the Great Recession."
"Their savings and 401(k) accounts were hit badly by the sharp decline in the stock market," he said. "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."
Referring to the period between December 2012 and December 2014, Shanker said the "Kentucky labor force declined by 77,000, and thus the number of people employed also declined, though not by that much."
"This decline is primarily a demographic phenomenon," Shanker said, and the number of jobs increased during the same period.