Kentucky's unemployment rate of 7.8 percent is higher than the national rate of 6.7 percent and translates into more than 160,000 Kentuckians who want to work but can't find a job.
Only four states — California, Illinois, Nevada and Rhode Island — had higher unemployment rates than Kentucky in February, the last month reported. A year before that, 10 states had higher unemployment than Kentucky, so we have fallen fast.
As Kentuckians struggle in a hirer's market, the U.S. Senate's approval this week of an extension of unemployment insurance for those who have depleted their 26 weeks of state benefits could be a godsend — but only if Republican leaders allow a vote in the House.
When congressional Republicans balked at another extension causing the emergency benefits to expire at the end of last year, 38,800 Kentuckians lost that critical income.
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Since then more Kentuckians would have been in line for the extended benefits as their state unemployment ran out, including many of the 7,000 coal miners who have been laid off in the last two years.
It will be interesting to see how Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, who profess to be the miner's friends, respond.
In the Senate, six Republicans (but none from Kentucky) broke ranks to support the extension, including Republican senators from Ohio and Illinois.
Seven House Republicans (but none from Kentucky) have called on Speaker John Boehner to quickly put the extension up for a vote, which Boehner has said he will not do.
Boehner and others in the GOP insist that unemployment benefits are a mere Band-Aid for a symptom, and that what's needed is a real cure in the form of job creation.
That's all well and good and pretty much indisputable. But it does nothing to feed or clothe the children or pay the mortgages of millions of Americans who would be thrilled to get back to work if only they could find a job.
Critics also complain that the retroactive extension approved by the Senate is for just five months, not long enough to justify the complications it will create for state agencies that manage unemployment programs.
There again, that's easy to say if you're in no danger of losing your home; for those who are searching for jobs that don't exist, five months of security would be worth the complications.
With an average benefit of about $300 a week, unemployment insurance is not a bonanza for moochers or an incentive for laziness. Its benefits, while critical to the unemployed, are far more widespread that just that.
The money is spent immediately, buttressing the economies of places where unemployment is high, interrupting the cascade of job losses and foreclosures.
Also, unemployment insurance protects our work force. Recipients must document that they are looking for work to get benefits, which keeps them connected to the job market and the world of work. That unemployment check tells them, "hold on, we've got your back until there's a job for you."
Cutting off unemployment insurance tells them "just give up, apply for disability benefits, you have been deemed useless."
The last thing Kentucky needs is more hopelessness and workers who have given up.
Create jobs, by all means. But Congress should not jettison workers who have been unemployed for more than six months.