A look at how much incomes in Douglas County trailed the state and other counties in 2021

photo by: John English

This aerial photo taken on June 12, 2022, shows Lawrence with the University of Kansas campus in the background.

Last year wasn’t a great year to earn money in Douglas County. But — brace yourself for a phrase we don’t often say when it comes to money — at least we weren’t Johnson County.

The federal government has released statistics showing the per capita personal income for every county in Kansas in 2021. They show incomes in Douglas County grew at a rate slower than both the national and state averages.

But, we had company. Neighboring Johnson County saw incomes grow at an even slower rate, and next door in growing Leavenworth County, incomes grew faster than in Douglas but at a below-average rate nonetheless.

“Per capita personal income” can be a mouthful to say, but it is the type of economic statistic an average resident may care about. It simply is a measurement of how much money everybody in the county earned, whether it comes from earning a paycheck, dividends from stocks or even Social Security payments. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis adds all the income up, and then divides it by a county’s total population to come up with a per capita number.

In one sense, the number shows whether residents of a county, on average, are getting ahead or falling behind. If a county grows its population a lot, but the amount of income in the county doesn’t grow at the same rate or better, chances are there could be some financial stress.

But like most statistics, the number is imperfect. This statistic doesn’t do anything to adjust for inflation. That wasn’t a huge issue in 2021, but it will be a big one in 2022. The latest numbers suggest Douglas County may have reason to worry. When you have incomes that are failing to keep up with state and national averages, and have high rates of inflation on top of that, the chances of financial stress rise.

The last few years of personal income reports for Douglas County show the county has struggled to grow its income at a rate that keeps up with the state or the nation. In 2021, Douglas County’s per capita personal income grew by 4.9% compared to the national average of 7.3%. Douglas County’s 4.9% also was behind the Kansas average of 5.3%.

That’s been the trend for a while now. Between 2019 and 2021, Douglas County’s per capita income has grown 10.9% compared to a statewide average of 11.4%.

Some of you may be thinking that what’s worse is that Douglas County income levels already are among the lowest in the state. There’s that perception, but it is only partially true. There are many counties that have a lower per capita income than Douglas County. At $51,703, we have the 62nd highest per capita income out of the 105 counties in the state. We are a long way from being Wyandotte County — home to Kansas City, Kan. — for instance. Its per capita personal income is $39,143, which ranks last among all Kansas counties.

That said, Douglas County’s per capita income is more than $7,000 less than the Kansas average of $58,924. Think about this for a moment: Multiple leaders say Lawrence and Douglas County have an affordable housing crisis. The county already has per capita incomes below the state average. Now, we are seeing those incomes grow at a rate less than the state’s average, meaning we are falling even further behind. At some point, to make a dent in Lawrence’s affordable housing problem, per capita incomes probably are going to have to grow at above-average rates.

But what about Johnson County? I said it was struggling even worse. Maybe that will make us feel better. Well, don’t count on it.

Johnson County’s per capita income did only grow by 4.3% in 2021. It underperformed the state by a greater margin than Douglas County. That’s true when you look at numbers from 2019 to 2021, as well, when incomes grew by just 7.3%. Income growth in Johnson County has been sluggish. If you are a leader there, that is worth noting.

But chances are, you still can afford to write that note on the back of a $20 bill.

Unlike Douglas County, Johnson County — despite its slow income growth — still has the third highest per capita income in the state. It checked in at $84,535 in 2021. A slow growth rate doesn’t create the same type of problems when you are trying to grow a large number. For instance, per capita income in Johnson County increased by about $3,500 in 2021, That was still about $1,000 more than it grew in Douglas County.

So, while you can’t see them behind their tinted SUV windows, Johnson County residents likely aren’t shedding many tears. Here’s a look how at several other counties are doing on the income front.

• Douglas: $51,703 per capita income, up 4.9% from 2020; up 10.9% from 2019

• Franklin: $49,652 per capita income, up 7.2% from 2020; up 14% from 2019

• Jefferson: $52,892 per capita income, up 6.2% from 2020; up 13.5% from 2019

• Johnson: $84,535 per capita income, up 4.3% from 2020; up 7.3% from 2019

• Leavenworth: $49,330 per capita income, up 5.5% from 2020; up 10.9% from 2019

• Osage: $50,353 per capita income, up 6.8% from 2020; up 17.3% from 2019

• Riley: $47,764 per capita income, up 3.6% from 2020; up 9.6% from 2019

• Sedgwick: $57,713 per capita income, up 4.7% from 2020; up 8.3% from 2019

• Shawnee: $54,066 per capita income, up 6.0% from 2020; up 13.8% from 2019

• Wyandotte: $39,143 per capita income, up 7.5% from 2020; up 16.1% from 2019

• Statewide: $58,924 per capita income, up 5.3% from 2020; up 11.4% from 2019


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