With New Year’s around the corner, it is the time of year that individuals often step in front of the mirror and do a little self-evaluation.
Maybe it is a good time for communities to do so, too.
New information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey makes it easier than ever to compare Lawrence to other communities.
As a year-end exercise, we’ve taken a look at Lawrence and compared it with nine other university communities. There’s nothing magical about our method, other than we recognize that university communities often are their own unique creatures. Five of the communities we examined — Norman, Okla.; Champaign, Ill.; Iowa City, Iowa; Bloomington, Ind.; and Columbia, Mo. — are on a list of communities that Lawrence City Hall considers peer communities. We chose three more because we thought readers would be interested due to their proximity and Big 12 affiliation — Manhattan; Ames, Iowa; and Stillwater, Okla. And then we chose Boulder, Colo., because for whatever reason, Boulder seems to have become our rich cousin that promotes either admiration or disdain, depending on whom you talk to.
One last word about the information: It comes from surveys taken by the Census Bureau from 2005 to 2009. The results are the average of those five years, which is not so great for showing you the latest numbers, but is good for providing you a reliable number.
So, here we go. Mirror, mirror on the wall …
• We could use more jobs. Local leaders often point to Lawrence’s lower-than-average unemployment rate. Indeed, Lawrence does traditionally have an unemployment rate below the nation’s. But when it comes to college towns, we’re a little on the high side. Over the five-year period we had the second-highest unemployment rate of the group.
Lawrence: 6.9 percent
Highest: Bloomington, 7.3 percent
Lowest: Manhattan, 4.6 percent
Group Average: 6.0 percent
National average: 7.2 percent
• We drive a lot. Our average travel time to work is second-highest in the group.
Lawrence: 18.5 minutes
Highest: Norman, 19.9 minutes
Lowest: Champaign and Manhattan, 14.5 minutes
Group Average: 16.1 minutes
National Average: 25.2 minutes
• We like our cars. Lawrence households are the second most likely of the group to have three or more vehicles.
Lawrence: 19.2 percent of households with three or more vehicles.
Highest: Manhattan, 20.4 percent
Lowest: Bloomington, 11.9 percent
Group Average: 15.9 percent
National Average: 20 percent
• We spend a lot on our homes. Lawrence is second in a convoluted yet important category. The Census Bureau measures how many homeowners — not renters — spend 35 percent or more of their monthly income on housing costs. We have the second-highest number of people who fall into that category.
Lawrence: 22.8 percent spend more than 35 percent of monthly income on housing.
Highest: Boulder, 26.6 percent
Lowest: Ames, 13.9 percent
Group Average: 19 percent
National Average: 27.9 percent
• Our men are dragging us down. Male, full-time, year-round workers in Lawrence have the fourth-lowest median salaries of the group. (In case you’re wondering, Lawrence females only were slightly better. They had the fifth-lowest salaries.)
Highest: Boulder, $57,378
Lowest: Stillwater, $32,604
Group Average: $42,782 ($41,160 without Boulder)
National Average: $45,363
• We have wages in the bottom third of the group but average home prices in the top third. Lawrence has the third-highest median home price in the group.
Highest: Boulder, $464,200
Lowest: Stillwater, $133,000
Group Average: $185,780 ($154,844 without Boulder)
National Average: $185,400
• Landlords love us. Lawrence was tied for the second-highest average monthly rent in the group.
Highest: Boulder, $998
Lowest: Stillwater, $581
Group Average: $735 ($706 without Boulder)
National Average: $817
• We’re blue collar. Well, if you consider manufacturing jobs blue collar, we are. Lawrence is tied for first in the group with the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs.
Lawrence: 7 percent of work force in manufacturing.
Highest: Tie between Lawrence, Champaign and Ames.
Lowest: Norman, 5.1 percent
Group Average: 6.1 percent
National Average: 11.2 percent
• We know how to run a cash register. Lawrence was second in the group for the largest percentage of retail jobs.
Lawrence: 12.9 percent
Highest: Stillwater, 15.6 percent
Lowest: Ames, 10.2 percent
Group Average: 12.2 percent
National Average: 11.5 percent
• We’re not as young as we think we are. Lawrence has the third oldest median age of any city in the group.
Lawrence: 25.0 years
Highest: Boulder and Norman, 27.9 years
Lowest: Bloomington and Manhattan, 22.8 years
Group Average: 24.6
National Average: 36.5 years