Latest report shows Lawrence residents saw their incomes grow, but city still has less money than surrounding communities

I usually measure personal income levels by checking my pantry to see whether we have one jar of peanut butter or two. (When the market is way up, we also have bread.) The federal government, though has a more precise but less tasty way of measuring income.

A new report shows incomes levels grew relatively well in Lawrence in 2016, but the town continues to be not nearly as wealthy as some other college communities.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released its personal income figures for every state and metro area. Unfortunately, the numbers are for 2016, which is the most recent year available. The best way to think of these numbers is that the government is measuring the amount of wealth held by individuals. The report measures everything from wages to Social Security payments to rental income received by individuals. It doesn’t measure income received and kept by businesses.

The report found that Lawrence in 2016 saw per capita personal income — after adjusted for inflation — grow by 0.7 percent. That was in contrast to what per capita income levels did statewide. Kansas saw a drop of 0.6 percent for the year. But Lawrence’s per capita income level continues to be lower than many other metro areas in the region. Here’s a look at how Lawrence compares:

• Lawrence: $38,593, up 0.7 percent

• Kansas (statewide): $47,221, down 0.6 percent

• Wichita: $47,694, down 0.8 percent

• Kansas City, Kan./Mo.: $47,011, down 0.5 percent

• Topeka: $44,541, up 2.0 percent

• Manhattan: $41,168, up 2.3 percent

• St. Joseph, Mo.: $38,093, up 2.3 percent

• Joplin, Mo.: $37,453, down 0.6 percent

That list shows Lawrence dodged some trouble in 2016 by managing to see income levels grow, when several other nearby communities saw a decline, once adjusted for inflation. But Lawrence continues to have incomes levels that are much less than our neighbors. Per capita income is almost 18 percent less than in Kansas City, and about 13 percent less than Topeka’s. A lot of that has to do with Lawrence being a college community. College students often are at a point in their lives where they don’t produce much income. Their low incomes push down the per capita numbers.

But there are several college communities that have higher income levels than Lawrence. Perhaps that is a sign that they have been able to diversify their economies more than we have, or they have figured out a better way to capitalize off of the university’s presence, such spin-off companies from university research or other methods. I don’t know the answer, but it is clear there are couple of different types of college communities: Those that have incomes that look a lot like ours, and others that have figured out how to break through that college-level ceiling. Here’s a look at college community income levels, again, adjusted for inflation.

• Fayetteville, Ark.: $56,525, down 1.5 percent

• Boulder, Colo.: $53,101, up 0.7 percent

• Iowa City: $45,100, up 0.3 percent

• Columbia, Mo.: $42,966, up 0.9 percent

• Fort Collins, Colo.: $41,954, up 0.6 percent

• Manhattan: $41,168, up 2.3 percent

• Morgantown, W.V.: $38,691, down 2.3 percent

• Lawrence: $38,593, up 0.7 percent

• Ames, Iowa: $38,093, down 0.8 percent

• Waco, Texas: $37,405, up 0.6 percent

• Bloomington, Ind.: $35,772, up 3.8 percent

As I mentioned, I don’t know the reasons behind some of the income differences between those college communities. But I’m interested in hearing what you think. I’m interested, in part, because the Journal-World has teamed up with University of Kansas School of Journalism on a research project. A team of professors and students at the journalism school received an Innovation in Journalism Education Grant from the Online News Association. The grant work will look at a variety of data issues, and part of the grant work is finding ways to reach out to the community about issues related to economic data.

So, here are a couple of questions for you, and I hope you will consider sharing your answers with me and the KU research team.

• What strategies would you like the community to use in raising income levels?

• What factors do you believe are keeping income levels comparatively low in Lawrence?

If you are comfortable with the public seeing your answers, just post them in the comment section below. If you want to just share them with the researchers and me, email them to me at Just put “Income Questions” in the subject line so that I’ll be sure to see your responses.


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