Local unemployment up more than 3,000 people for the year; a look at the hardest-hit areas

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The pedestrian walkway, outlined in white paint, along Massachusetts Street is pictured on July 10, 2020.

Douglas County’s unemployment rate dipped ever so slightly in July, but the number of unemployed in the county still was up by more than 3,100 people compared to a year ago.

The state on Friday released its labor report for July, and it didn’t show signs of a rapid recovery in the local jobs market. The county’s unemployment rate checked in at 8.2% for the month. That was down from 8.3% in June. That tenth of a percent drop meant there were 42 fewer Douglas County residents on unemployment in July than in June.

A look back to July 2019 produces the starker numbers. The county in July 2019 had 1,987 people on unemployment. In July 2020, the number of unemployed in the county stood at 5,146.

Statewide, the jobs numbers were a bit better, sort of. State economists adjust the statewide numbers to account for seasonal variances in jobs. Once seasonally adjusted, the state unemployment rate dropped from 7.5% in June to 7.2% in July. The number of Kansas residents unemployed fell by about 4,000 people for the month.

When you look at the raw numbers for the state — in other words, no seasonal adjustment — the state’s unemployment rate actually increased slightly, rising from 7.6% in June to 7.7% in July. The number of people unemployed grew by about 2,100 people for the month. For the year, the number of unemployed in Kansas is up by about 67,000 people.

All the numbers for Douglas County and other counties and cities are not seasonally adjusted. If they were seasonally adjusted, it is possible that Douglas County would have seen a slightly larger decline in its unemployment rate.

On that front, the numbers suggest Douglas County bounced back a bit better than the state as a whole. But the numbers also show that Douglas County continues to have worse unemployment than the state as a whole, with an unemployment rate that is about five-tenths of a percentage point higher than the state’s.

The numbers also show that Lawrence has the second-highest unemployment rate of any metro area in the state, trailing only Wichita, which has seen its aviation industry battered.

Here’s a look at the numbers for the metro area. Lawrence’s metro area is simply Douglas County, while the other metro areas in the state include multiple counties that surround the city.

• Wichita: 10.9% in July; up from 10.8% in June; up from 3.5% in July 2019

• Lawrence: 8.2% in July; down from 8.3% in June; up from 3.2% in July 2019

• Manhattan: 7.4% in July; unchanged from 7.4% in June; up from 3.0% in July 2019

• Kansas City: 7.3% in July; down from 7.5% in June; up from 3.1% in July 2019

• Topeka: 6.9% in July; down from 7.2% in June; up from 3.2% in July 2019

The July report also shows how many fewer jobs are located in Lawrence and Douglas County. That’s different from the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate measures how many people who live in Douglas County are unemployed. So, if a Douglas County resident who works in Johnson County loses his job, that shows up in Douglas County’s unemployment rate, even though the number of jobs located in Douglas County didn’t change as a result of that job loss.

A separate part of the report measures how many jobs are located in each metro area. That part of the report shows Douglas County has lost 2,600 jobs since July 2019. That’s a loss of a little more than 5% of all jobs in the county. That’s a historically high number, but it is not nearly as high as the job losses in fellow university community Manhattan. Job losses there were at 9.9% over the year. That’s the highest percentage total of any metro area in the state.

Yet, despite those job losses, the unemployment rate for the Manhattan is still lower than Lawrence’s — 7.4% versus 8.2%. That indicates that indicates that people who live in the Manhattan metro area but commute elsewhere for work –like Topeka, for example — have had better luck at keeping their jobs than Lawrence residents who commute elsewhere for work.

Here’s a look at how much job totals are down in each metro area:

• Manhattan: down 9.9%, 3,900 jobs

• Wichita: down 5.7%, 17,200 jobs

• Lawrence: down 5.3%, 2,600 jobs

• Topeka: down 4.3%, 4,800 jobs

• Kansas City: down 3.5%, 16,900 jobs

As for Lawrence’s job totals more specifically, there are a couple of interesting twists to note. Almost 60% of the job losses in the Lawrence metro area have come from two industries — government jobs and leisure and hospitality, which includes the people who work in the bar and restaurant industry.

The number of government jobs in the county has declined by 900 since July 2019. That’s the largest declining industry in total job numbers. But it is not the largest in terms of percentage loss. That’s the leisure/hospitality industry. It is down 600 jobs, which is a decline of 8.5% for the year. Government job totals are down 7.7% for the year.

The government percentage, though, is interesting for another reason. Lawrence and Douglas County are shedding government jobs at a higher percentage than the state as a whole. While the local market has lost 7.7% of its government jobs over the last year, the state has lost 4.6% of its government jobs.

Looking at the state’s other metro areas, it is clear that government job losses are all over the board. The Manhattan metro area, for example, has seen its number of government jobs drop by 15.4%. The Topeka and Kansas City metro areas, however, have only seen their government job totals drop by a little more than 2%. Wichita was right about even with Lawrence with losses in the 7% range.

Many of KU’s jobs are counted as government jobs, which helps explain why about 23% of all of Lawrence’s jobs are government jobs. That’s pretty close to the numbers in Manhattan and Topeka, but well below the statewide average of about 16%.

Not that Lawrence needed any more evidence of why the success of KU’s reopening strategy is critical to the local economy, but those numbers provide it. One more number also could be thrown into that mix. KU students support a large number of the hospitality and leisure jobs in the community. Lawrence’s economy is heavily dependent on those jobs. In July, 14% of all jobs in Lawrence were in the hospitality or leisure industry, compared to a statewide average of just under 9%.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.