Douglas County residents, it is time to compare ourselves with our neighbors again. And then mutter under our breath. Yes, new federal numbers are out measuring our incomes, and Douglas County again is stuck on the basement level.
Out of Kansas’ 105 counties, 30 have per capita personal income numbers of less than $40,000. Douglas County is still one of them, according to the new 2016 statistics released today.
But don’t get too despondent. For one, per capita personal income numbers aren’t a perfect measure of success, especially in a college community. The old theory goes that per capita numbers in college communities look worse than they really are because a lot of students in the community don’t have much in the way of income. Many are beer rich but cash poor. True enough, but that argument can become a crutch. It also is true that one of the best ways to raise incomes is to attract high-tech jobs that require highly educated people. What county in Kansas is smarter (or more modest) than Douglas County? That’s what I thought. Yet our incomes are still in the lower tier.
However, probably a better reason to take heart is that we are moving in the right direction. In fact, we are oh-so-close to breaking into the $40,000 club. Here’s Douglas County’s 2016 stats: Per capita personal income of $39,440 compared with the Kansas average of $47,228. That doesn't look so good, but our incomes grew by 1.6 percent in 2016, which is far better than the 0.5 percent growth rate of the state as a whole. In 2015, Douglas County incomes grew by 4.9 percent, also well above the statewide average. Over the last two years, we’ve even outpaced Johnson County’s income growth rate. (Don’t buy that new SUV quite yet. Johnson County’s per capita incomes are still more than $25,000 higher than ours.)
How do we stack up with some of our other neighbors? Here’s a look at per capital personal income numbers, which, by the way, basically measure all the income that individuals — not businesses — receive. That’s everything from paychecks to Social Security checks. But don’t confuse these numbers as an “average salary” for county residents. It is not. These numbers are for every man, woman and child in the county. But the numbers do give an idea of relative wealth of individuals in a county.
— Douglas: $39,440, up 1.6 percent
— Franklin: $38,371, up 1.3 percent
— Jefferson: $41,432, up 3.1 percent
— Johnson: $66,063, up 1.5 percent
— Leavenworth: $40,194, up 1.2 percent
— Osage: $39,372, up 2.8 percent
— Riley: $39,592, up 2.3 percent
— Shawnee: $44,504, up 3 percent
— Wyandotte: $30,508, down 15.8 percent
No, I don’t know what has happened to Wyandotte County, but the numbers are stark. Its per capita income in 2014 was more than $42,000, and it has plummeted in the last two years.
Less stark but still concerning are numbers in Sedgwick County, home to Wichita. Per capita incomes are still strong at $49,213. But while other counties were growing the past two years, Sedgwick County declined both years, down 1.7 percent. Next to Johnson County, Sedgwick County is the most important engine in the Kansas economy, so those numbers don’t bode well.
Other numbers in the report are troubling for Kansas. As has been the case for a long time, the counties with the highest income levels aren’t really what you would think of as economic powerhouses. Instead, they are very sparsely populated counties that rely primarily on agriculture. People move out of the county, but the ag land remains, meaning the ag income gets distributed among the smaller number of locals. The result is higher per capita income, but it isn’t a recipe for a healthy economy.
Lane County is a good example. It has the highest per capita income in the state at $76,238. If you aren’t sure where Lane County is, you’re not alone. Dighton is its county seat. It also is the county’s lone city. There are about 1,600 people in the county, and the population dropped by 18 percent during the last decade. A lot of “high ranking” counties in the state have similar stories.
That’s why it probably is wiser to compare Lawrence with some other similar communities. Here’s a look at how Douglas County’s per capita personal income numbers compare with the metro areas of some other college communities in the region:
— Boulder (University of Colorado): $63,707, up 1.6 percent
— Austin (University of Texas): $51,566, up 0.9 percent
— Iowa City (University of Iowa): $47,574, up 1.1 percent
— Fort Collins (Colorado State): $47,117, up 2.2 percent
— Lincoln (University of Nebraska): $45,511, up 1.5 percent
— Columbia (University of Missouri): $43,292, up 1.5 percent
— Manhattan: (KSU): $41,852, up 2.2 percent
— Lawrence (KU): $39,440, up 1.6 percent
— Morgantown (University of West Virginia): $39,024, down 0.8 percent
— Lubbock (Texas Tech): $38,568, up 0.6 percent
— Ames (Iowa State): $38,469, up 0.4 percent
— Waco, Texas (Baylor University): $37,755, up 2 percent
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.
Here I was worried about my physique, but apparently it was just my wallet that had gotten fatter. New numbers out from the federal government suggest several wallets got fatter in 2015 as Douglas County had one of the best income growth rates in the state.
In particular it looks like it was a big year for small business in Douglas County in 2015, as incomes for business owners particularly soared. But before you call the yacht broker, know that the figures also show, that while Douglas County incomes grew, they are still about $8,500 behind the average Kansas income.
The latest numbers came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and measured all types of income that Douglas County residents receive. That means everything from wages to business profits to rental income to Social Security payments.
Here is a look at some of the key numbers:
— Per capita income in Douglas County checked in at $38,686. That’s up 4.9 percent from 2014 levels. The 4.9 percent growth rate was the 12th fastest growth rate of the 105 counties in Kansas.
— Douglas County’s per capita income continues to lag well behind the statewide average. In 2015, Kansas average per capita income was $47,161. That was up 1.2 percent from 2014 totals. Douglas County’s per capita income of $38,686 ranks No. 76 out of the 105 Kansas Counties. Some of that has to do with the number of university students in the community, who earn very little and push the per capita numbers down. Indeed, Riley County, the other university-oriented community ranks No. 77 in the state with a per capita income of $38,499.
— Douglas County incomes are catching up to the state somewhat. Douglas County’s growth rate of 4.9 percent was much better than the statewide growth rate of 1.7 percent.
— It paid to be a small business owner in Douglas County in 2015. The BEA numbers show that properties of nonfarm businesses saw their income increase by 21.8 percent. It, however, was not a good year to be a farmer. Farm proprietors’ income declined by 30.4 percent in 2015.
— Douglas County wage and salary workers at businesses saw their income increase by an average of 4.3 percent in 2015, according to the data.
— That data shows that the number of jobs in Douglas County grew by 1.6 percent in 2015. The number of proprietors — people who owned a business or partnership — was up 2.9 percent.
Here’s a look at how some of Douglas County’s key statistics compare with other counties in the region.
— Douglas: $38,686 per capita income, up 4.9 percent; 1.6 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.9 percent.
— Franklin: $37,872 per capita income, up 3.5 percent; 1.4 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 1.9 percent.
— Jefferson: $39,884 per capita income, up 1.8 percent; 0.6 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 1.6 percent
— Johnson: $65,050 per capita income, up 5.5 percent; 2.2 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.7 percent
— Leavenworth: $39,477 per capita income, up 4.3 percent; 0.1 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.3 percent.
— Riley: $38,499 per capita income, up 2.6 percent: 1.0 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.6 percent.
— Shawnee: $43,216 per capita income, up 3.2 percent; 0.4 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.5 percent
— Sedgwick: $50,448 per capita income, up 1.4 percent; 1.5 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.4 percent.
So, the news was fairly positive for Douglas County. The news was a bit more mixed for the state of Kansas. Here is a quick comparison of how Kansas performed against other states in the region.
— Kansas: $47,161 per capita income, up 1.7 percent
— Colorado: $50,899 per capita income, up 2.3 percent
— Iowa: $45,902 per capita income, up 3.3 percent
— Missouri: $42,300 per capita income, up 2.9 percent
— Nebraska: $48,544 per capita income, up 0.5 percent
— Oklahoma: $45,573 per capita income, up 1.0 percent