Kentucky's economy may slowly improve, but will anyone notice?

Kentucky's economy is getting better, but it may not feel like it any time soon, according to University of Kentucky economists.

At their 22nd annual economic outlook conference Tuesday, the economists predicted slight growth but said Kentucky will continue to be hampered by lack of growth in the jobs market.

"We still have persistently high unemployment, which is a concern," said Ken Troske, chair of the economics department of UK's Gatton College of Business and Economics and director of the Center for Business and Economics Research.

Troske said Kentucky's housing market has not been subject to wild volatility as in Florida, giving Kentucky a slight edge over many other states.

And, he said, the manufacturing sector, which is a large part of the state's economy, likely has bottomed out.

"I don't think it's getting worse. It may even grow faster than the U.S. economy," Troske said.

But the growth may not be something the average Kentuckian feels.

"Certainly, when you don't have a job, you don't feel like it's getting better," Troske said.

He and fellow economist Christopher Jepsen predicted the unemployment rate is likely to ease slightly but remain at 9.5 percent for 2011.

Jepsen said Lexington's job market is recovering more quickly than Louisville or Northern Kentucky.

"Employment always takes a while to respond in a recovery," Jepsen said. "It's too soon to tell whether we've turned the corner. ... But at this time last year the situation looked much worse."

Jepsen said it may take three or four years before people see strong signs of a recovery. "I think for the next year we're going to chug along slowly," he said. "There's a chance it could be so slow you don't really notice."

Jepsen said the glut of housing is putting a drag on the economy, but he cautioned that quick fixes such as tax breaks or artificially lowering interest rates won't help.

On the national front, job growth is also expected to be slow.

But LaVaughn Henry, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland's Cincinnati branch, said it will come.

Henry said the true unemployment rate, factoring in those who are working only part-time or those who have stopped looking for work, is closer to 16 percent, rather than the current 9.4 percent.

But, he said, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke "doesn't believe high unemployment to be the new normal, but it may take several years to get back to more normal levels."