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Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Job outlook

June 20, 2003

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Figures released this week on jobs and wages should get the attention of Kansas residents.

The 2003 Kansas Wage Survey released Tuesday offers some interesting and disturbing information.

It also indicates that city commissioners and others who are pursuing a "living wage" ordinance for Lawrence might be better off putting their energy into attracting more jobs for local residents.

According to the study, the average worker in Kansas made $30,824 last year, an increase of 2.3 percent from 2001. As might be expected, that increase was less than workers experienced during the more prosperous 1990s.

But that's the good news. The bad news is that the state lost 14,300 jobs between 2001 and 2002, a decline of 1.1 percent of the work force. Most of those jobs, 13,400, were manufacturing jobs -- jobs that traditionally pay more than a "living" wage as well as creating new wealth for the state.

More than half of those manufacturing jobs were lost in Sedgwick County, which has been hit hard by layoffs in the aircraft industry. Retail jobs also were down, but the state gained jobs in health care, finance and insurance and public administration categories.

These figures should be of real concern to the state. Figures that should be of special concern to Lawrence also were released Tuesday by Manpower Inc. According to Manpower's quarterly employment outlook survey, only 13 percent of Lawrence employers planned to hire more people in the third quarter of this year. That puts Lawrence at the bottom among the seven Kansas cities the company surveyed.

There is nothing more important to the economic vitality of Lawrence or Kansas than for residents to be able to find well-paying jobs. The national economy is in a slump, but the state needs to stay aggressive in its efforts to attract high-tech and manufacturing industries that will bring new money and new jobs into the state.

An example of such an effort was the Kansas Legislature's approval of $500 million in bonds for the Wichita Boeing plant if it wins a portion of the job of manufacturing the company's future jetliner. Boeing would be responsible for repaying the bonds, but the funds help strengthen the case for bringing this highly sought-after project to Wichita.

Wages, of course, are important. Lawrence and the rest of the state want the jobs they attract to pay a good wage, high enough for someone to live on. They should actively recruit businesses that pay those kind of wages, but an arbitrary policy that requires companies receiving city tax abatements to pay a certain wage, regardless of whatever future market forces they may face, likely would be a deterrent for many businesses considering Lawrence.

Wages and the number of jobs a company would provide are fair issues to consider in connection with city tax abatements, but a living wage policy would set unnecessary limits on companies the community might like to attract.

Instead of putting artificial dampers on prospective business, let's put the focus on attracting good companies and good jobs to boost the local economy.

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