Archive for Sunday, September 23, 2012

U.S. Census gives annual snapshot of Lawrence

September 23, 2012


Lawrence, it is mirror, mirror on the wall time.

No need to go to a fairyland castle to gaze into this mirror, though. The U.S. Census Bureau late last week released a new set of 2011 data for cities across the country. The data provide the most recent estimates for everything from income levels to housing vacancy rates to demographic trends. In general, it is the most comprehensive one-year snapshot available for large to medium-sized cities across the country.

But before we start gazing, remember that the mirror isn’t perfect. These numbers are from the American Community Survey project, and, unfortunately, the sample size used by the Census Bureau produces some margins of error that are a little bit high. I try not to use any statistics that have a margin of error higher than plus or minus 4 percent, but it’s best to view the numbers as ballpark estimates rather than as precise data. In other words, excuse the blurriness of our mirror.

So, let’s gaze away, warts and all.

Household income

As you may have guessed, median household incomes have not fared well in the last few years in Lawrence. Technically, median household income fell from $45,471 in 2010 to $43,210 in 2011, a drop of 5.2 percent. But because of that margin-of-error factor, it is tough to get too precise here. But it is safe to say household income has been pretty stagnant.

Here is a look at how we compare to a couple of neighbors and the state as a whole:

• Lawrence: $43,210

• Olathe: $72,449

• Topeka: $36,666

• Kansas: $48,964

Full-time wages

You might be able to blame some of Lawrence’s lackluster income showing on those pesky college students. (You know, those pesky people who are the lifeblood of the local economy.) While they spend a lot on adult beverages, loud music and Ramen noodles, they don’t often have full-time jobs, which drags down Lawrence’s average household income. But this statistic factors that out of it. It measures the average earnings of a male, full-time, year-around worker. Well, the news hasn’t been great on that front either. In 2011, the average was $37,776. That’s down from the $41,142 measured in 2007 before the financial crisis. (In case you are wondering, it would be interesting to compare Lawrence with Manhattan in this category and others, because they are both college communities. But data for Manhattan weren’t released by the Census Bureau.) Here’s how we compare:

• Lawrence: $37,776

• Olathe: $60,265

• Topeka: $41,199

• Kansas: $43,993

A town of servers

Hey, Professor Sherlock, you can put down your magnifying glass. I think we’ve found a clue in the case of the lower-than-average wages. Actually, there are several clues. One big one is that the city is full of state employees, and the state’s budget situation has not produced large wage increases lately.

But here’s a clue that doesn’t get as much attention. Lawrence seems to have a much larger percentage of its workforce in the lower wage service type of jobs than many other cities. Specifically, the category is called the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food service category. That includes a lot of jobs like wait staff, hotel clerks, bartenders and other entry-level types of positions. Here’s a look at the percentage of jobs that fall into that category in Lawrence vs. other places:

• Lawrence: 14.5 percent

• Olathe: 5.6 percent

• Topeka: 9.7 percent

• Kansas: 7.6 percent.

Big-shot jobs

The category of jobs that many economic development officials would like to see grow in Lawrence is the professional, scientific and management jobs. That category of jobs really isn’t any bigger part of the labor picture in Lawrence than it ever has been. In 2011, the category accounted for 10.1 percent of all Lawrence jobs. In 2007, it was at 10.7 percent. But the good news is there are signs Lawrence could build a base of these kinds of jobs. Lawrence already has more than several other places in the state. Here’s a look:

• Lawrence: 10.7 percent

• Olathe: 14.8 percent

• Topeka: 8.3 percent

• Kansas: 8.6 percent

Shoes made for walking

Perhaps you have noticed gasoline prices have gone up in recent years. I wondered if that had caused more people to start walking to work in Lawrence. It hasn’t. The percentage of people who walk to work in Lawrence is 6.9 percent, which is largely unchanged from the 7.8 percent who walked in 2007. But these numbers do show that Lawrence is much more of a walking city than most places.

• Lawrence: 6.9 percent

• Olathe: 0.9 percent

• Topeka: 2.4 percent

• Kansas: 2.3 percent

Nobody’s home

The Census Bureau estimates 7.7 percent of all housing units in Lawrence — both apartments and houses — were vacant in 2011. That’s up from a 4.7 percent vacancy rate in 2007. But, if you think Lawrence surely has the highest vacancy rate in the state, you’re wrong.

• Lawrence: 7.7 percent

• Olathe: 4.6 percent

• Topeka: 11.0 percent

• Kansas: 11.0 percent

Paying the mortgage

The Census Bureau estimates the average homeowner with a mortgage in Lawrence pays about $1,317 per month in housing, utility and property taxes. A more interesting number is what percentage of Lawrence homeowners pay more than 35 percent of their monthly earnings toward housing. A decade ago, Lawrence seemed to fare pretty poorly in this category. Now, it seems to be fairly close to other communities.

• Lawrence: 21 percent

• Olathe: 15.6 percent

• Topeka: 19.8 percent

• Kansas 19.2 percent

Landlords love us

Maybe there is a reason why so many apartments get built in Lawrence. The Census Bureau says rents are higher in Lawrence than in many other places.

• Lawrence: $892 per month

• Olathe: $862 per month

• Topeka: $676 per month

• Kansas: $709 per month

Poverty rates

The latest numbers indicate the economic downturn hasn’t produced a spike in poverty levels in Lawrence. The percentage of families below the poverty level was 6.5 percent in 2011. In 2007, it was 8.6 percent.

• Lawrence: 6.5 percent

• Olathe: 4.6 percent

• Topeka: 12.1 percent

• Kansas: 9.2 percent

Insurance coverage

The number of Lawrence residents without health insurance is below the statewide average: 11.9 percent for Lawrence vs. 12.6 percent for Kansas. But given all the talk in the presidential campaign about government programs and assistance, I thought it would be interesting to see the percentage of people who have public health insurance in Lawrence. Come to find out, most other places in Kansas rely on public assistance more than Lawrence does. Here’s a look at the percentage of residents who have publicly provided health insurance:

• Lawrence: 16.3 percent

• Olathe: 14.9 percent

• Topeka: 32.2 percent

• Kansas: 26.1 percent

Hispanic numbers

Speaking of the presidential elections, you hear so much about how the Hispanic population is becoming larger in all parts of the country. I wondered what the situation was here. These ended up being some of the clearest numbers of the entire report. Lawrence’s Hispanic population is still below-average in size, but it indeed is growing. Lawrence’s population was 3.5 percent Hispanic in 2007. In 2011 it had grown to 6.7 percent Hispanic.

• Lawrence: 6.7 percent

• Olathe: 9.4 percent

• Topeka: 13.5 percent

• Kansas: 10.7 percent


Paul R Getto 5 years, 9 months ago

Nothing suprising here, with the exception of the walking to work statistics. Isn't the Census wonderful? Wonder how many other countries require one? Anyone? Anyone?

[Sorry, my brain got dolphed.]. Def: string together a series of questions,which may or not be related.

Currahee 5 years, 9 months ago

Lawrence's growth seems to have focused on building houses without attracting well paying jobs. But honestly, we have the suburbs of KCMO that attract a lot of companies, and if you add Lawrence into the competition there really isn't much incentive to have companies here.

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