Wichita employment trends are positive for three consecutive months.
Seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a rise in the Wichita metropolitan area labor force and job count. This data is through May 2018 and shows three consecutive months of rising employment.
This is a reversal of the long term trend for Wichita, in which the labor force and employment have been falling or trending steady while the nation’s economy has been growing. An interactive visualization of employment data for all metropolitan areas is available here.
While the upward trend is welcome, it is not known whether Wichita can sustain positive growth.
In May, the forecast for Wichita from Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University was pessimistic: “The production sectors are projected to remain approximately flat in 2018. Natural resources and construction employment is forecast to increase by less than 100 jobs while manufacturing employment is projected to decline by less than 100 jobs.”
This decline in manufacturing employment is forecast even after the new Spirit Aerosystems jobs are accounted for. In its reporting on this forecast, the Wichita Eagle wrote:
Late last year, Spirit, the city’s largest employer, announced plans to hire an additional 1,000 mostly production workers over two years, with the bulk of the hiring expected in 2018. Bombardier announced plans to add 100 jobs when it moves its Global 5000 business jet interior completions work from Canada to Wichita later this year.
“I’m not so sure all of the positive news means we’re growing,” [CEDBR director Jeremy] Hill said.
He said the gains at Bombardier and Spirit are offset by contraction and consolidation by smaller manufacturers that supply parts to Spirit and other aircraft manufacturers. In some cases, work the smaller firms have done has been taken back by larger manufacturers, who are now doing it themselves. Retirements in aircraft manufacturing may also be affecting the numbers, Hill said, but he doesn’t have the data to confirm that.
“It is hard to get your hands on,” he said. “It’s definitely not showing up in the (employment) numbers, not showing up in output in durables manufacturing.”
A look at income in Wichita compared to other Midwest cities.
How much do Wichitans earn at their jobs, compared to other cities?
This data is of interest as recently James Chung told an audience that “average income” is $10,000 higher in Midwest comparable cities than in Wichita. He didn’t define the term “income,” he didn’t define the comparable cities, and he didn’t provide any sources of data. But mention of this is a good time to look at income in Wichita and other cities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, collects data regarding salaries of occupations in different cities in a program called Occupational Employment Statistics. More information about this program may be found here.
One way to examine income in different cities is to compare the salaries for different jobs using the OES data collected by BLS. I selected some cities to compare with Wichita: Cedar Rapids, IA; Colorado Springs, CO; Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO; Kansas City, MO-KS; Oklahoma City, OK; Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA; and Tulsa, OK. (The data is collected for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), not cities. But it seems more natural to use the term city.)
The OES dataset is large, holding data on over 800 occupations, and it’s unwieldy to make apt comparisons. Besides what I report below, I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the OES data. In the interactive visualization, you may select any cities and occupations for comparison. Click here to learn more and use it.
Considering all occupations for this sampling of cities, the annual salary in Wichita is $43,880, while it is $50,600 in Des Moines. That’s $6,720 lower in Wichita, or 13 percent.
Considering a few semi-random occupations: For buyers and purchasing agents, the highest salary is in Cedar Rapids at $75,830. The Wichita salary is $9,640 less, while the Des Moines salary is $15,070 less.
For food service managers, the highest salary is in Colorado Springs at $66,300. The Wichita salary is $1,520 less, while the Des Moines salary is $21,270 less.
For police officers, the highest salary is in Colorado Springs at $68,980. The Wichita salary is $21,670 less, while the Des Moines salary is $4,310 less.
For telemarketers, the highest salary is in Fayetteville at $27,760. The Wichita salary is $1,860 less, while the Des Moines salary is $2,100 less.
For the broad category of architecture and engineering occupations, Wichita is the leader in the sample at $82,710. Des Moines is at $71.930, which is $10,780 lower.
For the broad category of production workers, Wichita again leads the sample at $44,950, while Des Moines is at $35,190, which is $9,760 lower.
Another set of data that can help is personal income. For Des Moines, personal income per person is $50,677 (complete year 2016). For Wichita, the value is $47,395, which is $3,282 less. (For an interactive visualization of personal income, see Visualization: Personal income by metropolitan area.)
Comparing average salaries for groups of occupations in different cities has problems. One is the number of workers in occupations. Considering management occupations, there are few chief executive officers but many other managers. The weight of the number of workers needs to be considered.
Also, the magnitude of salaries is an issue. Chief executive officer salaries vary widely, by tens of thousands of dollars. The data tells us that a CEO in Wichita earns $65,400 less than in Des Moines. That variation is greater than the average salary across all occupations, and provides little insight into the salaries of the majority of workers.
The per capita personal income figures overcome these obstacles.
Do Wichitans earn $10,000 less than in comparable Midwest cities, as James Chung recently presented? Based on per capita personal income, the answer is no. Not even close to that, although Wichita’s per capita income is not encouraging.
Based on occupational salaries, Wichitans earn less than many comparable Midwest cities, but nothing near $10,000 less when all occupations are considered. In specific occupations, Wichita salaries are much less, but in some cases Wichita salaries are highest.
Kansas personal income rose at the annual rate of 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the previous quarter. Compared to the same quarter of 2017, the increase was 2.2 percent.
The quarterly change for the first quarter ranked 32 among the states.
Major contributors to the change in personal income were farm earnings down 0.61 percent, durable goods manufacturing up 0.88 percent, finance and insurance up 0.53, professional, scientific, and technical services up 0.39, and health care and social assistance up 0.48.
From December 2016 to December 2017 Sedgwick County employment was level, changing by 0.0 percent. According to the BLS news release, that ranked 317 of the 347 largest counties.
Using the monthly average job count, Sedgwick County had 248,772 (monthly average) jobs in 2016. For 2017 that fell to 247,022, a decline of 1,750 jobs or 0.7 percent.
As can be seen in the chart of change in job levels, 2017 continues a trend of slower job growth in Sedgwick County, with the growth trend turning negative.
Nonetheless, Sedgwick County leaders, as well as other local leaders, proclaim momentum in the local economy. Earlier this year Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 1 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year. 2
In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”
In the same column he also wrote “There is a lot of momentum and forward movement in our community right now and I’m encouraged to see what we can achieve as a team.”
Looking at these statistics, it’s difficult to see how anyone could come to these conclusions.
According to BLS, “The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program publishes a quarterly count of employment and wages reported by employers covering more than 95 percent of U.S. jobs, available at the county, MSA, state and national levels by industry.” Also “The primary economic product is the tabulation of employment and wages of establishments which report to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs of the United States. Employment covered by these UI programs represents about 97% of all wage and salary civilian employment in the country.”
For April 2018, the unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area fell, and the number of jobs grew.
Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment statistics for metropolitan areas through April 2018. These are numbers that are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s not very useful to compare any month with the month before. But it is appropriate to compare a month with the same month of the prior year.
The good news, sort of: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.6 percent in April 2018, down from 3.9 percent in April 2017. The number of unemployed persons also declined by 8.9 percent for the same period.
These numbers should be good news. But these two statistics don’t exist in a vacuum. Specifically, the unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 2,676 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,071. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.
A further indication of the health of the Wichita MSA economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This rose by 100 from April 2017 to April 2018, an increase of 0.03 percent. This follows a decline of 0.5 percent from March 2017 to March 2018.
For April 2018, BLS reports:
Unemployment rates were lower in April than a year earlier in 305 of the 388 metropolitan areas, higher in 63 areas, and unchanged in 20 areas, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Eighty-eight areas had jobless rates of less than 3.0 percent and three areas had rates of at least 10.0 percent. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 312 metropolitan areas, decreased in 70 areas, and was unchanged in 6 areas. The national unemployment rate in April was 3.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted, down from 4.1 percent a year earlier. 1
Of 422 metropolitan areas considered, Wichita ranked 383, dropping 28 spots since the previous year.
Among 100 medium size metropolitan areas, Wichita ranked 93, dropping 5 spots from the previous year.
NewGeography.com uses employment data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics from November 2006 to January 2018. 1 Last year’s publication contains a more detailed explanation of how the rankings capture current year-growth, mid-term growth, and momentum. 2
In the analysis for 2017, Wichita had also fallen in ranking.
Wichita has momentum, they say
Despite this news, Wichita leaders are in denial. Recently Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr told a group of young people this:
From the innovation campus at Wichita State University and development along the Arkansas River in downtown, including a new baseball stadium, to the conversations happening now about a new convention center and performing arts facility, Fluhr said the momentum is pushing to keep Wichita on par with the development of other communities around the country.
That development, which has in recent years expanded to incorporate the entire region, is a critical component to attracting and retaining talent — the exact kind of talent in the ICT Millennial Summit crowd. 3
In March Sedgwick County Commissioner David Dennis penned a column for the Wichita Eagle praising the county’s efforts in economic development. 5 Dennis is also chair of the commission this year. In his column, the commissioner wrote: “Economic development is a key topic for the Board of County Commissioners and for me in particular. Right now we have a lot of momentum to make our community a more attractive place for people and businesses.”
At the same time, the Wichita Eagle editorialized: “Wichita’s economy struggled to rebound from the last recession, which held the city back. But there have been positive economic signs of late, including a renewed focus on innovation and regional cooperation. … There also is a sense of momentum about Wichita. Yes, challenges remain, but the city seems to have turned a corner, with even greater things ahead.”6
In announcing his candidacy for Sedgwick County Commission, Wichita city council member Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said, “We have enjoyed great progress and growth during my two terms as a City Council member and I plan to do my part to assure Sedgwick County is part of this continued success.” 7
Given all this, it ought to be easy to find economic data supporting momentum, progress, and growth. Besides the NewGeography.com report cited above, let’s look at some other indicators.
Personal income. For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, personal income in 2016 rose slightly from the 2015 level, but is still below the 2014 level. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, personal income fell in 2016. 8
Downtown Wichita. There’s been a lot of investment in downtown Wichita, both public and private. But since 2008 the trend is fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. Almost every year these numbers are lower than the year before. This is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising, but business activity is declining. 9
Employment. While officials promote the low Wichita-area unemployment rate, there is an alternative interpretation. First, the good news: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.9 percent in March 2018, down from 4.2 percent in March 2017. The number of unemployed persons declined by 8.3 percent for the same period. 10
Is Wichita’s declining unemployment rate good news, or a byproduct of something else? The unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 3,367 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,056. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.
A further indication of the health of the Wichita-area economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This number declined by 1,200 from March 2017 to March 2018, a decline of 0.4 percent. This follows a decline of 0.7 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.
Of the metropolitan areas in the United States, BLS reports that 308 had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 72 (including Wichita) had decreases, and 8 had no change.
Growth in output. The worst news, however, is that the Wichita-area economy shrank from 2015 to 2016. In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, the Wichita metropolitan area gross domestic product fell by 1.4 percent. For all metropolitan areas, GDP grew by 1.7 percent. Since 2001, GDP for all metropolitan areas grew by 29.3 percent, while Wichita had 12.3 percent growth. 11
The GDP figures are for 2016, and figures for 2017 won’t be available until September. So what happened in 2017? Could 2017 be the genesis of momentum to drive our economy forward?
While GDP figures aren’t available, jobs numbers are. For the year 2016, total nonfarm employment in the Wichita metropolitan area grew by 0.62 percent. For 2017, the growth rate was 0.56 percent — a slowdown in the rate of job growth. These job growth figures are far below the rate for the nation, which were 1.79 and 1.58 percent respectively.
Furthermore, Wichita’s job growth rate in 2016 was lower than 2015’s rate of 1.07 percent. This is momentum in the wrong direction. Nearby charts illustrate. 12
What to do?
The failure of the Wichita-area economy to thrive is a tragedy. This is compounded by Wichita leaders failing to acknowledge this, at least publicly. While we expect people like the mayor, council members, and the chamber of commerce to be cheerleaders for our city, we must wonder: Do these people know the economic statistics, or do they choose to ignore or disbelieve them?
From private conversations with some of these leaders and others, I think it’s a mix of both. Some are simply uninformed, while others are deliberately distorting the truth about the Wichita economy for political or personal gain. The people who are uninformed or misinformed can be educated, but the liars are beyond rehabilitation and should be replaced.
“The methodology for our 2018 ranking largely corresponds to that used in previous years. We seek to measure the robustness of metro areas’ growth both recently and over time, with some minor corrections to mitigate the volatility that the Great Recession has introduced into the earlier parts of the time series. The ranking is based on three-month rolling averages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ‘state and area’ unadjusted employment data reported from November 2006 to January 2018.” 2018 How We Pick The Best Cities For Job Growth. Available at http://www.newgeography.com/content/005973-2018-how-we-pick-best-cities-job-growth. ↩
For the state of Kansas, real personal income declined from $137,975 million in 2015 to $137,307 in 2016, a decline of 0.5 percent. For the entire country, the growth was 1.1 percent. Among the states and DC, Kansas ranked forty-fifth in magnitude of change.
For the Wichita metropolitan statistical area, real personal income declined from $30,913 million in 2015 to $30,747 in 2016, also a decline of 0.5 percent. Of 382 metro areas, Wichita ranked 337th in magnitude of change.
Looking at per capita figures, real personal income per capita in Kansas fell from $47,483 in 2015 to $47,221 in 2016, a decline of 0.6 percent. For the entire country, the growth was 0.4 percent. Among the states and DC, Kansas ranked forty-third in magnitude of change.
Real personal income per capita in the Wichita metropolitan statistical area fell from $48,076 in 2015 to $47,694 in 2016, a decline of 0.8 percent. Of 382 metro areas, Wichita ranked 325th in magnitude of change.
“Real” means that the values are expressed in a way that recognizes the effects of inflation. In this case the values are in “millions of chained (2009) dollars.” Additionally, BEA uses regional price data to measure and account for the effects of regional inflation.
BEA offers this definition: “Real state personal income is a state’s current-dollar personal income adjusted by the state’s regional price parity and the national personal consumption expenditures price index.” 2 Metro personal income is defined similarly.
Personal income, also from BEA, is “The income received by, or on behalf of, all persons from all sources: from participation as laborers in production, from owning a home or business, from the ownership of financial assets, and from government and business in the form of transfers. It includes income from domestic sources as well as the rest of world. It does not include realized or unrealized capital gains or losses.” 3
Kansas has a lot of highway miles compared to its population. Interactive visualization included.
Kansas has nearly 100 lane miles of highway per thousand persons, a value exceeded by only five states, with two of those barely higher than Kansas. This figure is for total lane miles, urban and rural, using data reported by the Federal Highway Administration for 2016. 1
Besides a graphic table of population, total lane miles, and lane miles per thousand persons, there are three scatter plots. These plot each state’s population, area, and population density compared to lane miles.
In each plot, I’ve identified Kansas. (In the interactive visualization you can identify each state.) In all three charts, Kansas is an outlier.
These charts do not include Alaska, California, and Texas. These three states are outliers — Alaska because of its area, and the other two because of their size and high population. In the interactive visualization, of course, you may include these states and exclude any others.
Figures are for total lane miles, urban and rural, using data reported by the Federal Highway Administration for 2016. 1
Besides a graphic table of population, total lane miles, and lane miles per thousand persons, there are three scatter plots. These plot each state’s population, area, and population density compared to lane miles.
Click here to access the visualization at Tableau Public.
For 2017, the Kansas economy shrank, and just two states performed worse.
In 2017, the Kansas economy contracted by 0.1 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars from 2016, according to statistics released today by Bureau of Economic Analysis, a division of the United States Department of Commerce. 1
This put Kansas in 48th position among the states, with only Connecticut and Louisiana posting lower numbers.
For the fourth quarter of 2017, Kansas GDP grew at an annual rate of 2.3 percent, slowing slightly from the third quarter rate of 3.8 percent. The rates of -6.1 percent and -0.3 percent in the first two quarters kept the state from showing overall growth in economic output for the year.
The nearby table shows change in GDP by industry, for Kansas, the nation, Plains states, and some comparison states.
The unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area fell. So too did the number of jobs.
Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment statistics for metropolitan areas through March 2018. These are numbers that are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s not very useful to compare any month with the month before. But it is appropriate to compare a month with the same month of the prior year.
The good news, sort of: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.9 percent in March 2018, down from 4.2 percent in March 2017. The number of unemployed persons also declined by 8.3 percent for the same period.
These numbers should be good news. But these two statistics don’t exist in a vacuum. Specifically, the unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 3,367 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,056. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.
A further indication of the health of the Wichita MSA economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This number declined by 1,200 from March 2017 to March 2018, a decline of 0.4 percent. This follows a decline of 0.7 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.
Of the metropolitan areas in the United States, BLS reports that 308 had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment, 72 had decreases, and 8 had no change.
An interactive visualization of tax collections by state governments.
Each year the United States Census Bureau collects a summary of taxes collected by each state for 5 broad tax categories and up to 25 tax subcategories. 1 I’ve collected this data and made it available in an interactive visualization.
You may recall that Kansas raised personal income tax rates in 2017 and made the new rate retroactive to January 1, 2017. But that change doesn’t seem to have affected this data. For 2016, Kansas collected $768 per person in individual income taxes, and for 2017, $799. Here’s why:
For most states, including Kansas, this data is for the fiscal year, not the calendar year. 2 New withholding tax tables were not available until June 27, 2017, just three days before the end of fiscal year 2017. 3
Liquor enforcement tax collections provide insight into the economic impact of hosting NCAA basketball tournament games in Wichita.
In Kansas, a tax is collected at liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores on the sale of alcoholic beverages. The same tax is also collected on sales to clubs, drinking establishments, and caterers by distributors. 1 This tax is called the liquor enforcement tax. The rate has been 8 percent since 1983, when it was raised from 4 percent. 2
This tax provides some insight into the level of sales of alcoholic beverages at bars, clubs, and restaurants. It is not a perfect measurement of that, and perhaps not even a very good measurement, as it also includes sales at retail outlets for consumption offsite.
Nonetheless, it’s data we have. The Kansas Department of Revenue provides this data on a monthly basis for each county. With the touted influx of visitors for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in Wichita in May — along with the generalized party atmosphere — we might to expect to see these tax collections rise during March. Here’s what happened.
The liquor tax collections exhibit pronounced seasonality, so it’s useful to compare the same month of the previous year, as follows for Sedgwick County:
March 2017: $1,315,653
March 2018: $1,085,214
Change: -$230,439, a decline of 17.5 percent.
Not only was March 2018 lower than March 2017, it was lower than five of the previous six months of March.
The monthly average for the 12 months prior to March 2018 was $1,243,793. March 2018 didn’t meet that standard.
Kansas liquor enforcement tax collections are available in an interactive visualization here.
“Liquor Enforcement or Sales Tax. The second level of taxation is the enforcement or sales tax, which is imposed on the gross receipts from the sale of liquor or CMB to consumers by retail liquor dealers and grocery and convenience stores; and to clubs, drinking establishments, and caterers by distributors.”
Also: “Enforcement. Enforcement tax is an in-lieu-of sales tax imposed at the rate of 8 percent on the gross receipts of the sale of liquor to consumers and on the gross receipts from the sale of liquor and CMB to clubs, drinking establishments, and caterers by distributors.
A consumer purchasing a $10 bottle of wine at a liquor store is going to pay 80 cents in enforcement tax.
The club owner buying the case of light wine (who already had paid the 30 cents per gallon gallonage tax as part of his acquisition cost) also now would pay the 8 percent enforcement tax.”
Kansas Legislative Research Department. Kansas Legislator Briefing Book 2017. Available at http://www.kslegresearch.org/KLRD-web/Publications/BriefingBook/2017Briefs/J-4-LiquorTaxes.pdf. ↩
Hotel tax collections provide an indication of the economic impact of hosting a major basketball tournament.
The Kansas Department of Revenue has released transient guest tax collections for March 2018. This is a tax added to hotel bills in addition to sales tax. The rate in Kansas is 6.00 percent, although some localities add additional tax to that.
For the city of Wichita, here are the collections:
March 2017: $538,539
March 2018: $543,844
Increase: $5,305 or 0.99 percent
With the hotel tax at 6.00 percent, that increase implies additional sales of $88,417 for the same month of the prior year. (The 2.75% tourism fee that is also added to Wichita hotel bills is paid directly to the city, so it does not appear in the statistics from the Kansas Department of Revenue.)
While an increase from the same month of the previous year is good, the average monthly hotel tax collections for the year before (March 2017 through February 2018) was $590,770.
So March 2018 didn’t exceed the average month of the previous year. It also didn’t exceed March 2016. Whatever was happening in Wichita during that month, the city generated $665,854 in hotel taxes.
Kansas transient guest tax collections are available in an interactive visualization here.