New figures show Douglas County residents earned more in 2017, but may still be jealous of our neighbors
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If you are a Douglas County resident, chances are you had more money in your pocket last year, even more so than most other Kansas residents. That’s the good news. The bad news is you are still in Kansas, which continues to lag behind other states when it comes to personal income growth.
Federal officials on Thursday released numbers for every county in the country showing personal income levels, which is just economist-speak for all the money a person earns, whether it be through wages, rental income, Social Security payments or a number of other ways.
Douglas County had the highest growth rate of any urban county in Kansas in 2017. Per capita personal income grew by 2.7 percent to a total of $41,360. That 2.7 percent growth rate was better than the state as a whole, which posted a 2.2 percent gain.
The news is a little less encouraging if you look more broadly. Kansas had the lowest income growth rate of any of our neighboring states. In other words, you are keeping ahead of the Joneses if they have a Kansas address but probably not if they have a Missouri one. (And the Colorado Joneses won’t come within 50 feet of your table at the country club.) Here’s a look at the per capita income totals and their growth rates for 2017.
• Colorado: $54,646, up 4.3 percent
• Nebraska: $50,809, up 2.3 percent
• Kansas: $48,559, up 2.2 percent
• Missouri: $44,978, up 3.2 percent
• Oklahoma: $44,376, up 5.4 percent
As you can see, Kansas continues to rank in the middle of the pack in terms of how large our personal incomes are in the Plains region, but we ranked at the bottom in terms of growth rate. In fairness, Nebraska was only one-tenth of a percent better, and I don’t think I would agree to wear one of those funny Cornhusker hats for a tenth of a percent. One caveat to this year’s number is 2017 was a much better year for Kansas than 2016. Kansas’ personal income levels grew only by 0.6 percent in 2016, so 2.2 percent is quite an improvement.
If you include Iowa, which is not a border state but does share a lot of common characteristics with Kansas, we would feel even better. It is an example of an agriculture state that grew even more slowly. It posted a 1.5 percent growth rate and now has per capita income of $47,062. (And they also wear funny, corn-based hats.)
But back to the better news. Douglas County had the top growth rates of the large Kansas counties, and its per capita income levels are closer to the statewide average than they used to be. Here’s a look at the numbers for the state’s five urban counties — plus our university twin, Riley, which is home to Kansas State:
• Douglas: $41,360, up 2.7 percent
• Johnson: $69,977, up 1.8 percent
• Riley: $40,974, up 2.1 percent
• Sedgwick: $49,101, up 2.2 percent
• Shawnee: $44,834, up 2.4 percent
• Wyandotte: $32,085, up 2.6 percent
Per capita incomes are still low in Douglas County, and our high number of low-earning college students always will keep those numbers somewhat depressed. But we are in the same ballpark with several counties nearby. Here’s that list:
• Franklin: $40,207, up 2.1 percent
• Jefferson: $41,753, up 2.6 percent
• Leavenworth: $41,101, up 2.6 percent
• Osage: $40,179, down 0.7 percent
In case you are wondering which Kansas county has the highest per capita income totals, it is a small one. Lane County — which has lots of agriculture, a fair amount of oil and about 1,500 people in the middle of western Kansas — has per capita income of $92,559. That’s nearly $23,000 more than the per capita income levels in wealthy Johnson County. (My goodness, imagine the size of the SUVs in Lane County.)
One other note about Lane County. It is named after former Douglas County resident and Bleeding Kansas figure James Lane. We should get a royalty payment.