New numbers show Lawrence added jobs in 2017, but failed to keep pace with Kansas City, Topeka

Massachusetts Street is illuminated by holiday lights and vehicles on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.

Since Lawrence is a big city now, I guess my morning commute should involve a subway. (I’ll plan on getting a footlong and three cookies for breakfast.) I’m, of course, referring to the news that city planners estimate Lawrence’s population has crossed the 100,000 mark in 2018. Not everything is growing so rapidly in Lawrence, though, as a new jobs report shows.

Planners estimated that we had a pretty robust 2.5 percent population growth rate in 2017. For at least a year anyway, that’s a return to the type of population growth we saw in the go-go 1990s. Jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County, though, grew at only about a third of that pace, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Each month BLS estimates the number of jobs that actually exist in the Lawrence metro, which includes all of Douglas County. The numbers, of course, change each month, but we now have a full 12 months of preliminary data for 2017. I’ve averaged the monthly totals, and they show Lawrence had 54,375 jobs on average in 2017. That’s up from 53,950 jobs in 2016. That’s 425 jobs or a growth rate of about 0.8 percent.

There certainly was a time not long ago that any job growth was seen as a victory, so I would be careful not to sneer at 0.8 percent job growth. But there was a point in 2017 where it looked like Lawrence was poised for a big jump in jobs. At least that is what the statistics were pointing toward. In June, Lawrence posted job growth of more than 5 percent. It followed it up in July with job growth of about 1.8 percent and then 1.6 percent in August.

Since then, the picture has become negative. The preliminary numbers show the numbers of jobs in September dropped by 1.8 percent, by 1.2 percent in October, by 0.5 percent in November and 0.2 percent in December. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the specific numbers because they are preliminary and will change, but they probably are a good indication of the trend.

The other thing of note is that Lawrence did not keep up with Topeka or Kansas City job growth in 2017, and for the last part of the year, Wichita also had much higher job growth totals. Here’s a look at the 12-month average growth rates for each of the metro areas, which include the Kansas and Missouri side of Kansas City.

• Kansas City: up 1.9 percent

• Topeka: up 1.2 percent

• Lawrence: up 0.8 percent

• Manhattan: up 0.8 percent

• Wichita: up 0.6 percent

For whatever reason, though, the state’s two big college communities — Lawrence and Manhattan — both suffered slowdowns in the last part of the year. Like Lawrence, Manhattan has posted declines since September, according to the preliminary numbers. In fact, the declines in Manhattan have been even more pronounced. In December, Manhattan posted a 2 percent job decline compared to Lawrence’s 0.2 percent dip.

On the other end of the scale is Wichita. It has posted job increases for eight straight months, according to the preliminary data. Topeka and Kansas City had much less volatility. Both communities posted job gains for every month of the year.