LJWorld.com weblogs Reality Distortion Field

Better off in Lawrence? An answer by the numbers.


After listening to the catch phrase "Are you better off?" over and over during the last few weeks, I started to wonder what the answer to that was for Lawrence residents. I know that I personally can answer "Yes" to that question, but what about the average Lawrencian?

So I hit the books, studying the budgets from the City of Lawrence for the last several years, which have lots of great information-- not just on the spending of the city, but also on demographic and employment numbers of it's residents. The results are telling. I plan to break down several major categories, including taxation, housing, unemployment, crime and income. I will compare numbers from 2009 (when the economy crisis hit rock bottom for most of America) to the most recent numbers that are available from these budgetary reports.

Taxation - Mill Levies 2009

Total 118.890

Taxation - Mill Levies 2012

Total 125.160

So, mill levies have increased 5.2% in the last several years. This is from all sources combined, including the State of Kansas, Douglas County, USD 497 and the City of Lawrence. The schools and the City in particular have raised their rates over the last three years, and the city of Lawrence is asking for another increase for the 2013 Budget, for Police equipment and a pavement marking project. In a promising change, USD 497 has decreased their mills for 2013 by two-tenths of a mill to 59.263. Many of the City's increases over these last three years appear to have been for projects and improvements that the commission has approved, and not as much to cover budgetary shortfalls.

Taxation - Sales Tax 2009

State of Kansas 6.30%

City of Lawrence 1.55%

Douglas County 1.00%

Total 8.85%

Taxation - Sales Tax 2012

State of Kansas 6.30%

City of Lawrence 1.55%

Douglas County 1.00%

Total 8.85%

So, while these numbers are completely unchanged in that time, change is on the horizon. The state will drop sales tax rates by six-tenths of a cent in July 2013, and Mayor Schumm has proposed a half-cent increase to take effect also in July 2013, to fund the police facility improvements, among other things.

Taxation - Verdict: No, we are not better off in regards to taxation. With cuts to education from the state, USD 497 has had to compensate by increasing its levy in the last three years. The adopted reduction for 2013 from the school district is a good sign that finances are changing for the better in our local education system. The city has consistently raised mill levies every year since 2009, and has earmarked much of that money for improvement projects. It's my opinion that some of this tax burden could be lessened if not so many of these pet projects had been approved by the Commissioners.

Housing - New Residential Permits 2009

In 2009, 141 new residential (single, duplex and multi-family) building permits were issued by the City.

Housing - New Residential Permits 2012

The most recent report for 2012 is from June. As of the end of June 2012, the city had issued 87 new residential (single, duplex and multi-family) building permits. Based on the pattern of 2011 building permits, 57% of the residential permits for the year were issued Jan-Jun. If that pattern holds true, then 43% of the residential building permits for the year will be issued Jul-Dec. Based on this assumption, I project that the city will issue an additional 65.6 residential permits this year, for a total of 152.6 permits.

Housing - Property Valuation 2009

The assessed value of all of the property in the city was $853,676,870.

Housing - Property Valuation 2011

Valuation numbers for 2012 are not yet available, but in 2011, the assessed value was $856,611,007.

Housing - Verdict: Yes, we are better off in terms of housing. New building permits for 2012 are being issued at a rate I project to be an 8.2% increase compared to 2009. Valuation of the property in the city has increased $2.9 million dollars when 2011 is compared to 2009, or a growth of $1.46 million per year. If that rate holds steady, Lawrence will be worth $4.4 million more by the end of 2012 than it was in 2009. This may be a drop in the bucket, but it IS an increase in value.

Unemployment - 2009

City of Lawrence: 5.4%

State of Kansas: 6.7%

(2010 was actually the peak of unemployment rates in the city and our state, at 6.2% and 7.0% respectively.)

Unemployment - 2012

City of Lawrence: 5.2%

State of Kansas: 6.1%

Number of Jobs at Major Local Employers - 2009

The Top 10 largest employers in Lawrence provided at least 18,875 jobs. (I did not include the duplicate count for DCCCA that is on the budget. I counted the remaining 10 on the list, however.)

Number of Jobs at Major Local Employers - 2012

The Top 10 largest employers in Lawrence provided at least 18,148 jobs.

Employment - Verdict: Yes, we are better off. While the number of jobs provided by the top 10 Lawrence employers has not changed significantly (mostly due to the downsizing of the World Company), the unemployment rate for Lawrence overall has gone from 5.4% in 2009 to 5.2% in 2012. Again, that is a small difference, but it is a hopeful sign that more recovery is on the horizon. Another good sign is the new call center opening in the former Affinitas location at Riverfront Mall. This company will provide an additional 300 new jobs to the Lawrence economy, which alone will account for another future three-tenths of a percent reduction in Lawrence unemployment (based on 2010 census numbers).

Crime - 2009

(Crimes per 1,000 residents)

Violent Crime Index 4.6

Property Crime Index 57.6

Total Crime Index 62.2 (the 2009 budget incorrectly lists the total as 72.2)

Crime - 2012

(Crimes per 1,000 residents)

Violent Crime Index 4.2

Property Crime Index 38.4

Total Crime Index 42.6

Crime - Verdict: Yes, we are better off in terms of criminal activity in Lawrence. Despite little to no change in the size of our police force (142 patrol officers in 2009, 144 in 2012), both violent and property crimes have dropped, with overall crime decreasing by 29.6%. The real telling number is the number of property crimes (theft, etc) has decreased by a third in the last three years.

Income - 2009

The average income per capita in Lawrence was $23,070.

The average household income in Lawrence was $40,547.

The average family income in Lawrence was $61,776.

Income - 2012

The average income per capita in Lawrence is $34,305.

The average household income in Lawrence is $41,290.

The average family income in Lawrence is $65,673.

Income - Verdict: Yes, we are better off in terms of income. Personal income has increased by 48.6%. Household income has increased by 1.8%. Family income has increased by 6.3%.


On the whole, the average Lawrencian is better off than they were in 2009. While taxation has increased, housing is being built at a higher rate, property values are higher, unemployment is lower, crime is lower, and average incomes are higher. Growth in these areas is a positive sign that life is coming back into our economy, albeit slowly. While you still might need to answer the question of whether YOU are better off, and if that should affect your decision when you go to the polls in November-- you should be aware that on average, your friends and neighbors are doing better than they were 4 years ago.


tange 5 years, 9 months ago

I feel it in my fingers
I feel it in my toes....

/ but, then, I'm Claire voyant

headdoctor 5 years, 9 months ago

Thank you Claire Williams for taking the time to assemble a well thought out blog. I doubt that all will appreciate it because there are far to many who will not take the time to read it. It contains facts that some don't want to see or hear because they will not let facts get in the road of a perfectly good rant.

We are better off than than we were four years ago. Yes there are still areas of the country that are not doing as well. Most of those areas though have very specific issues that make a comeback slower than what some expect. The three biggest drawbacks to the total situation and a more complete recovery is the growing debt and the fact that our economy has switched from an industrial base to a service base and the level of spending with lack of tax revenue to cover that spending. When our economy falters it will always take longer to rebuild it with a service based approach. There are many who do not want to look at the heart of what is going on or what still needs to be done. The issues have been distilled down to a simple us against them at party levels. Even though the parties have morphed into a much more complicated political arena than just conservative, moderate, and liberal. I believe today between the Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians there are something like thirty different subgroups. Quite a Heinz 57 mixture to be distilled down to just two main large parties.

There have been several posters point out that we have to cut spending and gain more tax revenue. The harsh reality is neither side is willing to do what is needed for a complete recovery package for the good of America.

Claire Williams 5 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, headdoctor! It took me a couple days to get through all of the figures in the budgetary reports and track down the other information I presented about what is on the horizon for us, but I think it was worth it, even if most will pass it by because of tl;dr syndrome.

RoeDapple 5 years, 9 months ago

Apparently you don't buy gasoline. Or groceries. Utilities. Medical care. Clothes. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. . . . .

Claire Williams 5 years, 9 months ago

Well Roe, my intention was to only look at metrics reported in our Lawrence Budgets, so I could compare apples to apples.

However with a little research, I can give you the following numbers--

The average price of gas in June 2009 in Kansas was $2.59/gallon.

The average price of gas in June 2012 in Kansas was about $3.40

At it's highest in recent years, gas in Kansas was around $3.90 in June 2008.

At the end of 2008, gas prices in Kansas plummeted to around $1.50/gallon, and then they have been climbing from there since then.


So as far as gas goes, we are not better off than we were in 2009, but we ARE better off than we were at the height of the gas price crisis in 2008. The instability in the middle east during and since the Arab Spring has greatly contributed to our current oil prices, with sharp increases beginning in February 2011. If the situation in Syria and the rest of the middle east can be stabilized, and we can continue to tap into our own domestic oil and other fuel sources, hopefully our current prices will drop.

As for groceries, it appears that I am not going to be able to present a good side by side comparison from 2009 to 2012 without going to a ton of different sources, so I will concede the point that on average, food prices are higher, directly as a result of the oil prices we have today. It costs more to get goods to market.

As for clothing, utilities and other goods, on average the costs increased slightly, although utility prices have shown significant drops in the last 6 months, and overall 12 month increases are at their lowest since 2010. This shows signs of hope to me that inflation is slowing down as we climb out of the hole we have been in.

So yes, cost of living is higher than it was in 2009. I am not afraid to concede that point to you. However when combined with the other indices (such as income, crime, unemployment, etc) I've compiled in my list, I still feel that we are better off in Lawrence than we were in 2009.

Jean Robart 5 years, 9 months ago

I don't know who the "We" referred to in an earlier post is, but NOBODY I know is better off now than four years ago. For those who live on a fixed income, we are definitely not better off now. Food prices, gas, medical expenses(to name a few) are going higher all the time, and if you have a medicaid spenddown, you can treat yourself into bankruptcy with costs. Utilities are higher, and if you have to depend on public transportation, you can be stuck in your home too much of the time. And how many of you in this community have been able to take a vacation outside of Lawrence in the past few years?

headdoctor 5 years, 9 months ago

Being better off than 4 years ago does not mean fully recovered nor does it mean back to a red hot economy that we once enjoyed. People on a fixed income always have financial shuffles going on. They are not the only ones trying to make the money stretch. I can almost guarantee you if the Republicans get into full power and get their proposed platform in full force you will have a lot less than what you have now.

Weather_Watcher 5 years, 9 months ago

And I can almost guarantee you the opposite.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.