A new report raises the question of whether Lawrence has gotten much, much richer; new statistics for the state and a new ranking
Congratulations, Lawrence residents. You are rolling in it. The ‘it,’ of course, is money. At least that is what a new Census report suggests.
The Census Bureau through its American Community Survey program this week released its latest one-year snapshot of Lawrence and other communities. The report shows that the median household income in Lawrence increased by a whopping 16 percent in 2016. The report estimates the median income for a Lawrence household grew to $54,243, up from about $46,500 a year earlier.
If this is true, it is huge news for the community. Lawrence has long been a community that has trailed the state in income numbers. But at $54,000, Lawrence would basically be very close to the statewide average of about $55,000. Or here is another way to look at it: There are about 36,000 households in Lawrence. If all of them, on average, have about $7,700 more than they did in the prior year, that’s about $277 million of new money in the Lawrence economy.
Forget buying a new boat. Let’s upgrade to a yacht.
Actually, I’m getting word I’m not yet allowed out of the dinghy. The statistics from the Census Bureau deserve a closer look. The American Community Survey program relies on taking samples from across the community, and sometimes the sample sizes can be small enough that the margins of error are pretty high. That is the case here. The margin of error is plus or minus $5,800. When you compare that with 2015’s numbers in its margin of error, you come up with this: Median household income in 2016 was between $48,443 and $60,043 compared with 2015 household income that was between $41,464 and $51,664. So, in actuality, it is possible that incomes declined from about $51,000 in 2015 to about $48,000 in 2016.
You know what they say, what’s a few thousand dollars between friends?
But the numbers still deserve some attention. It is still quite possible that Lawrence has experienced an increase in household income. Xan Wedel, a data engineer for KU’s Institute for Policy and Social Research, is a Census expert. She notes that the Census will be coming out with a more detailed report in December that relies on much larger sample sizes and has smaller margins of error.
“We will know how much stock to put into this in December,” Wedel said. “We can be more confident about the data then.”
I think there is a good chance that Lawrence is seeing some growth in incomes. The country as a whole is. What will be interesting to watch is whether we are seeing growth that is significantly above national and state averages. But it is hard to fathom that we’ve seen a 16 percent increase in incomes.
But I’ll get my captain’s hat out just in case.
• I won’t pass along any other Lawrence numbers from the report because the margins of error are just too big. But the report does a better job of providing a snapshot of Kansas as a whole. So, let’s take a quick statistical tour of the Sunflower State:
— We are getting older. In 2016, 11.2 percent of the Kansas population was 65 or older. That’s up from 9.9 percent in 2010.
— We love that internet. In 2016, about 80 percent of Kansas households had broadband internet service. That’s up from 73 percent in 2013, when the Census started tracking the issue.
— There is a bit more money. Kansas’ change in median household incomes wasn’t statistically significant from 2015 to 2016. But if you go back to 2010, it is clear we have seen growth. In 2010, median household income ranged from about $47,000 to $49,000. In 2016, median household incomes ranges from about $54,000 to just less than $56,000. Kansas has had some recovery since the Great Recession. Whether the recovery has been as great as other places is a separate debate.
— There is less poverty. The percentage of families below the poverty line in 2016 was 7.9 percent. In 2010, it was 9.5 percent.
— There are more renters in the state. Renters are becoming a bigger part of the state’s housing market. In 2016, about 34 percent of the state’s households lived in a rental unit. That’s up from just under 32 percent in 2010.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are talking about numbers, here’s another one: No. 6. Lawrence is the sixth best college town in America, according to one of the many such rankings for that sort of thing.
The financial website 24/7 Wall Street named Lawrence to its list as a top college town. The website looked at Census statistics related to income, crime, unemployment and several other statistics, and then gave special attention to the number of college students who live in the community. It looks like bars and restaurants per capita also played a role.
As a side note, we probably should expect Lawrence to show up on a lot of lists in the coming year or so, if list-makers use the Census numbers noted above and the 16 percent income growth figure. With that, we’ll be crowned king many times.
As for this ranking, here are a few other towns in the region: No. 20, Lincoln, Neb.; No. 10, Norman, Okla.; No. 9, Fort Collins, Colo.; No. 4, Boulder, Colo.; No. 1, Ames, Iowa.
A list-maker who puts Ames at No. 1 is a bit like the producers of all those beautiful home shows about Alaska. They only ever go there in the summer.