Big 12 city incomes
Here’s a look at the 2008 per capita income for Big 12 and area cities, and the median home values in each community.
• Boulder, Colo.: $52,719; $342,400
• Norman/Oklahoma City: $40,942; $111,200
• Austin, Texas: $37,811; $167,500
• Manhattan: $36,987; $123,700
• Lincoln, Neb.: $36,202; $140,700
• Ames, Iowa: $34,702; $150,200
• Columbia, Mo.: $33,604; $139,400
• Lubbock, Texas: $31,380; $92,200
• Lawrence: $31,125; $168,300
• Waco, Texas: $31,074; $92,800
• College Station: $27,694; $115,900
• Kansas City: $40,367; $152,500
• Topeka: $34,748; $108,300
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; U.S. Census Bureau
Here’s a look at the percentage of income spent on housing, based on average income levels and average mortgage amounts for each city:
1. Lawrence: 51.8 percent
2. College Station: 51.1 percent
3. Austin: 49.5 percent
4. Ames: 45.4 percent
5. Waco: 43.5 percent
6. Lincoln: 42 percent
7. Boulder: 41 percent
8. Columbia: 40.1 percent
9. Lubbock: 40.8 percent
10. Manhattan: 35.6 percent
11. Norman/Oklahoma City: 32 percent
This is one Big 12 ranking Lawrence could live without.
New numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Lawrence’s 2008 per capita income was the second lowest of the 11 Big 12 Conference cities for which data was available.
And when you compare the income that Lawrence residents earn to the average housing prices in the city, Lawrence fares the worst out of those 11 Big 12 cities.
Several economic leaders in the city said they weren’t surprised.
“We’ve had virtually no job growth for this decade,” said Roger Zalneraitis, the city’s economic development coordinator/planner at City Hall. “We just haven’t seen the increases in jobs or wages. We’ve fallen behind the rest of the region in that regard.”
The new statistics on income show that Lawrence residents earned, on average, $31,125 in 2008. That represented a 2.5 percent increase over 2007 totals, but the growth wasn’t enough to push Lawrence’s income levels even close to average for either the country or the Big 12 conference.
Lawrence’s per capita income ranked 266th out of 366 metro areas in the country. It ranked ninth out of the 11 Big 12 cities that were measured. Stillwater, Okla., was too small to be included in the federal government’s latest release.
To put into perspective Lawrence’s cost-of-living, the Journal-World compared the new income numbers with the latest housing value numbers, which were compiled by the U.S. Census for 2007.
Those numbers show that despite the below-average income, Lawrence had the second highest median value for owner-occupied homes in the Big 12 Conference at $168,300. According to the Census Bureau, the average monthly mortgage payment in Lawrence was $1,346. That meant a Lawrence resident with an average income and an average mortgage was spending 51.8 percent of their income on housing. That was the highest of the 11 Big 12 cities, even though Boulder, Colo., had median home prices of more than $340,000.
The difference? Boulder also has the 12th highest average per capita income in the nation.
Economic development leaders said the lesson is clear. The community needs to focus on attracting higher wage jobs.
“I’m not sure what the community can do about housing costs,” said Tom Kern, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “Those are a factor of willing buyers and willing sellers. But the issue of wages is something we can work on.”
Kern said the community is trying to follow the example of places like Boulder, San Diego, Raleigh, N.C., or Madison, Wis., that have made conscious decisions to use research conducted at their local universities to attract specialty jobs and companies to the area.
“Our emphasis is on biosciences because those type of jobs will push our per capita income up,” Kern said.
But the changes likely will take many years to show solid results when it comes to pushing average incomes up. In the meantime, questions are growing about whether housing prices and incomes can continue to have such a disparity.
“At some point in time, the market is going to figure this out,” said Mayor Rob Chestnut. “I think we have to assume we will not see the decade worth of assessed value growth that we saw the last decade because that is just not sustainable.
“All of this points straight to the fact that we have to create economic development opportunities here.”
Chestnut said the disparity in incomes versus housing prices was a major factor in Lawrence’s population slowdown. The numbers suggest Lawrence is likely losing out to area cities. Both the Topeka and Kansas City metro areas had higher incomes than Lawrence and lower housing costs.
“No matter how great a community we are to live in, at some point people are going to make the economic choices they have to make,” Chestnut said.