Income concern

Lawrence can’t use its high student population as an excuse for sluggish growth in its per capita income.

May 10, 2011


The per capita income figures released by the federal government recently probably weren’t a big surprise to Lawrence officials, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be cause for continuing concern.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average Douglas County resident earned about $7,000 a year less in 2009 than the average Kansan. Although the county’s per capita income had dropped slightly from 2008, it had declined less than the statewide average. However, from 2004 to 2009, the stateside average grew 22.7 percent, while Douglas County’s average grew by only 18.5 percent.

Lawrence and Douglas County having a lower-than-average per capita income isn’t unusual. The primary reason for the discrepancy is the high number of Kansas University students who claim Lawrence as a residence but earn little or no salary.

That’s why a comparison with other university communities is perhaps the greatest cause for concern. When compared with the 11 other communities in the Big 12 Conference, Lawrence had the ninth lowest per capita income. All the communities are different, but they all have a large number of students who pull down their average per capita income.

Of course, sometimes it’s not all about the students. That’s the case when comparing the per capita income growth in Lawrence to that in Manhattan, home of Kansas State University. In 2004, per capita income in the two cities was about the same, roughly $27,000 a year. By 2009, that figure had grown to $32,000 in Lawrence but soared to $40,358 in Manhattan.

K-State hasn’t grown dramatically, but there has been a major troop buildup in neighboring Fort Riley. The early stages of developing the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan also may have had some impact.

Manhattan has some special circumstances but that doesn’t mean Lawrence officials should dismiss the per capita figures. Whether or not Lawrence experiences an economic boost anywhere close to that in Manhattan, the city needs to focus on efforts for steady growth in per capita income. That means attracting businesses that supply well-paying jobs for Lawrence residents. As Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Tom Kern pointed out, it’s unlikely Lawrence will recruit a 1,000-employee company, but it can work on new or expanding companies that create 20 or 100 jobs at a time.

With the former Farmland property being reclaimed to the east and activity in the new bioscience and technology incubator to the west, it seems Lawrence may be poised for some important employment gains. Slow and steady may take the day, but only if officials continue to focus on and support business activity that will add jobs to the local economy.


Scott Drummond 6 years, 10 months ago

The LJW is constantly peddling right wing propaganda about how government spending cannot create better conditions for citizens, so it is surprising to see the editor(s) admit that military welfare spending has had such a positive impact on average wage for Manhattan.

Darrell Lea 6 years, 10 months ago

Perhaps some more in-depth reporting and analysis is needed. Do local businesses conspire to keep wages artificially deflated in Lawrence? Are there employers who set a shining example and pay their workers a living wage, in spite of the local market? How does the LJW compare to other regional publications in terms of hourly wage? I believe a weekly series of articles is in order.

dncinnanc 6 years, 10 months ago

It's been my experience that positions here simply pay less than they do in KC or Topeka, which is interesting since housing costs are more expensive here. The same clerical-type positions that would pay $35-$40k per year anywhere in KC typically only pay $25-$30k here, if that.

GSR1855 6 years, 10 months ago

It is unfortunate that the City is so focused on warehouse/factory positions for future growth. Many experts and national research firms confirm that future growth is in the service industry! Which would pay more too!!

Lindsey Buscher 6 years, 10 months ago

Service industry jobs pay more than warehouse/factory jobs? Got it.

You'll fit in nicely with the service industry workers who aren't paid to think.

nativeson 6 years, 10 months ago

I am not sure how Lawrence has focused on warehouse/factory positions. We have seen some large local employers such as Berry Plastics expand, but the City clearly did not assist financially. What we have seen is the City and County put hard dollars into technology. The KU incubator and lab building in West Lawrence are their commitments to creating jobs. Hopefully, this will be the future economy.

deec 6 years, 10 months ago

Actually Berry/Packer plastics has had multiple tax abatements et. al. for decades, so the city has assisted them financially.

Thunderdome 6 years, 10 months ago

The City isn't focused on anything, that's the problem. We spend $250K per year funding the Lawrence/Douglas County Bioscience Authority (LDCBA) and spent money building the incubator on behalf of the Lawrence Regional Technology Center (LRTC) and both of them are led by people who have absolutely no idea how to recruit and/or assist in commercializing bioscience initiatives. We have intellectual property leaving KU just to avoid LRTC. And I would love for someone to justify for me why LDCBA even exists. The leaders of these organizations are taking home pretty good salaries with no discernable benefit to the community. We need to either do a national search to find suitable leaders for these organizations or scrap them.

As for the Farmland property, court records show at least two industrial development companies were willing to take the property and bring in large-scale technology-based development. So how is it that the City decided to take on the property? Now the City is stuck with both cleaning up the site and developing it. I hope the powers that be hit a home run with this site, but I am not holding my breath.

Cai 6 years, 10 months ago

i would say, even service jobs get poor pay here.

Customer service for a telecom company here: $9/hr to start (yes, for sunflower) Same job for Time Warner in Overland park? $16/hr to start.

There's a discrepancy there

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