A look at what people get paid across the state; Lawrence teachers may be the biggest losers in wage race
photo by: Sylas May/Journal-World Photo Illustration
We should all have Kansas City envy. The state has released its annual report on wages across Kansas, and the numbers are a good reminder that pretty much all of us make less than what we would if were working in the much larger Kansas City economy.
But some of us should be more green with envy than others. By the look of the numbers, Lawrence-area schoolteachers could be a good stand-in for Kermit the Frog any day of the week. Not only do average wages for Lawrence teachers trail Kansas City — most of the time by about $10,000 a year — they are the lowest of any metro area in the state.
Other professions, though, aren’t faring as poorly as you might think. Public safety officers, construction workers, health care professionals, and particularly lawyers all have wages that stack up pretty well, sometimes even to Kansas City totals.
One other Lawrence group, besides teachers, really seems to be laggards — bosses. (Insert your own joke here.) The very broad category of “management occupations” is telling for Lawrence. Managers in Lawrence have the lowest average wages of any metro area in the state. While many may not feel sorry for bosses, it may be one of the more important numbers for Lawrence to understand. It seems like it is a reminder that corporations and Lawrence aren’t mixing well these days.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the numbers from the 2019 Kansas Wage Survey, which is produced by the Kansas Department of Labor. The statistics are from surveys that the state sends out to employers. Are they the most accurate numbers? If the numbers show you should be making more money, you probably think they are very accurate. If they show you are making above the average, you probably think they stink. The truth is probably in the middle. It is a long-running survey by the state, though, and I think the numbers are relied on by businesses and others.
All Lawrence numbers are for the Lawrence metro area, which includes all of Douglas County. One other metro note: The Kansas City metro area just covers the Kansas side of K.C.
• Overall: The overall average earnings in Lawrence totaled $42,781 a year. That was No. 4 out of the five metro areas in the state. That’s the same spot Lawrence was in last year. The others: No. 1: Kansas City $51,345; No. 2: Wichita: $44,498; No. 3: Topeka: $44,006; No. 5: Manhattan $42,145.
• Teachers: The salary differences for K-12 educators were eye-catching in this report. Here’s a look for elementary teachers: Lawrence: $46,895; Kansas City: $57,780; Manhattan: $52,782; Wichita: $51,935; Topeka: $47,825
For middle school teachers: Lawrence: $50,812; Kansas City: $57,713; Manhattan: $52,184; Wichita: $52,227; Topeka: $50,632.
For high school teachers: Lawrence: $48,330; Kansas City: $58,643; Manhattan $56,544; Wichita: $52,343; Topeka: $49,724.
In broad terms, Douglas County — remember, these numbers also include Baldwin City, Eudora and private schools — pays much closer to the Shawnee County area than the Kansas City area.
That is roughly in line with a 2018 article we wrote that compared just the starting salaries of new teachers in the area. That article, though, showed the Lawrence district’s wages outpacing those of Topeka schools by a bit. This state data looks not only at starting wages but at wages for all levels of teachers.
Again, this data is broad. You would get a better look by digging into specifics from individual school districts. But these numbers give you an idea of what Lawrence teachers are concerned about. Keeping up with Topeka isn’t keeping up at all. For example, the median value of a home in Lawrence is $183,700, according to 2017 Census figures. In Topeka, it is $100,400.
• Managers: The broad category of “management occupations” includes everything from CEOs to sales managers to human resource managers to property managers. Basically, it is those positions in an organization that oversee other positions. Lawrence has the lowest average wage of any metro in the state for managers. Here’s a look: Lawrence: $91,802; Kansas City: $120,969; Wichita: $100,089; Manhattan: $96,812; Topeka: $96,480.
No surprise that Kansas City and Wichita have the top two spots. They are the largest economies in Kansas, but they also are the most corporate driven. The one community that may get Lawrence’s attention is fellow university town Manhattan — its metro also includes Junction City and Fort Riley. It has an average more than $5,000 higher than Lawrence’s.
• Public safety: Police, fire and other such occupations are called “protective service occupations.” The average wage for those occupations is $43,111 in Lawrence. That was ranked No. 3 out of the five metro areas. In essence, though, it really was tied for second. Kansas City and Lawrence were only separated by by $35. Topeka was at the top of the list at $44,876.
What is more interesting is that when it comes to what supervisors in this profession earn, the Lawrence metro area was by far the leader. It ranked No. 1 of the five metro areas at $78,355. Kansas City was the closest at $71,297. Everybody else was below $70,000. The bulk of these positions are police and firefighter supervisors.
That one is worth more study. Either there is some sort of anomaly in the Lawrence numbers, or there is the potential for some really interesting conversations around the water cooler — or maybe a negotiating table.
• Construction workers: Only Kansas City had higher wages for people in the construction industry. There has been discussion that the building trade in Lawrence is suffering from a shortage of workers. These numbers might be evidence of that, as construction earnings in Lawrence are about 5.5% greater than in nearby Topeka. As the community looks at affordable housing issues, those construction wages might be worth looking at in more detail. Here are the averages: Lawrence: $45,745; Kansas City: $53,503; Topeka: $43,378; Wichita $42,049; Manhattan $41,549.
• Health care workers: Lawrence also only trails Kansas City when it comes to health care earnings. There are two categories here. This first one is for health practitioners and technical positions. Lawrence: $73,522; Kansas City: $76,290; Wichita: $67,376; Topeka: $65,337; Manhattan: $62,493. The second one is for health care support workers. Lawrence is No. 2 in that category, but not by as wide a margin. Average earnings are $30,261, which is about $1,800 less than Kansas City but only about $300 more than Topeka.
• Lawyers: Kansas City is the runaway leader for lawyers. (Funny how you don’t see billboards celebrating that.) But Lawrence is a very solid No. 2. Lawrence: $115,098; Kansas City: $141,165; Topeka: $95,728; Wichita: $86,246: Manhattan: $82,541.
• Lowest paying jobs: You might think with an abundance of college student labor that the typically low-paying service jobs in the restaurant and retail industries might be even lower in Lawrence. The numbers were mixed on that. In the broad category of food preparation and service, Lawrence earnings were higher than any metro other than Kansas City at $22,021. That was only about $500 — or about 2% — lower than Kansas City’s average. In the category of retail sales workers, it was a bit of a different story. The two college towns did have the lowest earnings in that category. Lawrence: $24,416; Kansas City: $26,601: Wichita: $25,829: Topeka: $25,098: Manhattan: $23,108.
There are even more numbers that we could go over. But that would require me to work longer, and these numbers show that is not always the best value equation in Lawrence. But if you want to dig deeper, you can find the entire report here.