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Job growth in Wichita: Great news?

A tweet from a top Wichita city official promotes great news that really isn’t so great.

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The @WichitaEconDev Twitter account is managed by Scot Rigby, who is Assistant City Manager, Director of Development Services for the City of Wichita. Its tagline is “Promoting, building and preserving Wichita’s economic strength to ensure Wichita is the preferred location for new, existing and expanding organizations.”

The tweet observes “great news” in a Wichita Business Journal article reporting on an employment forecast. Wichita jobs are seen to grow in 2019, according to the forecast.

But the Business Journal article didn’t provide any useful context. Once we learn more about what the numbers in the forecast mean, we may want to temper our enthusiasm.

The forecast for Wichita metro area employment in 2019 calls for modest growth of 0.9 percent, according to the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. 1 This follows growth of 0.8 percent in 2018. 2

Nationally, the economy is expected to continue strong growth. 3

The nearby chart illustrates that since the end of the last recession, job growth in Wichita has been below job growth in the nation as a whole. Generally, job growth in Wichita has been at about half the rate of the nation. In 2017, Wichita lost jobs.

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Of Wichita job growth in 2018, the CEDBR forecast notes, “This marked a return to the level of growth experienced in the Wichita area from 2012 to 2016, after experiencing a contraction in overall employment in 2017.” The average annual rate of job growth for those years in Wichita was 0.83 percent. It was 1.82 percent for the nation, which is 2.2 times the rate for Wichita.

CEDBR also notes, “Wichita’s unemployment rate declined throughout 2018 to a low of 3.5 percent in October 2018, the lowest unemployment rate for the area since 1999.” We should note that this decline is primarily due to a declining labor force in Wichita, rather than robust job growth.

Back to Rigby’s tweet: There is good news — Wichita is not forecast to lose jobs, as it has in the recent past.

But the rate of growth seen for Wichita is not robust, and that’s a serious problem, especially when our officials think it’s good.


Notes

  1. Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. Wichita Employment Forecast. January 8, 2019. Available at http://www.cedbr.org/forecast-blog/forecasts-wichita/1558-economic-outlook-wichita-2019-january-revision.
  2. Employment figures are not available for December 2018, so I use a crude estimate for that month.
  3. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. December 18-19, 2018. Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20181219.htm.
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