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State of the City, Wichita: Employment strength

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell’s State of the City video relies on flimsy evidence and plucks scant good news from a sea of bad. This is a problem.

Recently Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell delivered the State of the City video. It was posted to YouTube on March 28, 2019, and may be viewed here.

In this video, the mayor said, “The recent Livability.com study measured employment rates strength over time, affordability, and community amenities.” This isn’t the first time the mayor and other city officials have mentioned this study, if we can even call it that. 1 In January, a tweet from the official @CityofWichita Twitter account contained: “We have been named one of the top two recession-proof cities in the nation by @Livability. Wichita was praised for its ability to withstand turbulence in the national economy, steady job growth and the state’s low income-to-debt ratio.” 2

What does the data tell us? 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. Yet, City of Wichita officials, including Mayor Longwell, tout “steady job growth,” relying on a study that obviously isn’t based on evidence.

Click for larger.

The mayor also said: “Wichita’s unemployment rate is at a historically low 3.5%, and WSU forecasts that Wichita is expected to see an across-the-board increase in overall jobs this year.”

Look at the data. In this table, we see that the unemployment rate (monthly average) for 2018 is nearly unchanged from 1999. Also nearly unchanged for these 19 years are the civilian labor force and number of jobs. Both values are slightly lower now. This is not “steady job growth,” as Wichita officials proclaim. It is stagnation.

It’s not only employment that has been bad news. In 2017 the Wichita economy contracted, which is the definition of a recession. 3 Personal income has grown only slowly. 4

Regarding jobs, the mayor accurately reports what the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University forecast said: Jobs are forecast to rise in Wichita for 2019. 5 Specifically, the report said: “Wichita is estimated to add approximately 2,500 jobs in 2018, and growth is projected to increase modestly to 0.9 percent in 2019, with more than 2,700 new jobs added.”

Is 0.9 percent job growth good? Nationally, the economy is expected to continue strong growth, although perhaps slightly slower than in 2018. 6 Nationally, job growth is forecast at 1.7 percent for 2019. 7 Wichita’s forecast rate of 0.9 percent is 53 percent of the national rate.

It’s good news that jobs are set to grow rather than shrink. But in a surging national economy, that’s setting a low standard for success.

What’s unfortunate is the mayor and city promote things like this as good news. But when we use readily accessible data from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the United States Department of Labor) and Bureau of Economic Analysis (a division of the United States Department of Commerce), we easily see that we’re not being told the entire story. “Recession-proof” glosses over recent years of declining production. “Historically low” unemployment rates ignore a stagnant and declining labor force. “An across-the-board increase in overall jobs this year” doesn’t contextualize that the forecast rate of growth for Wichita is anemic compared to the nation.

What we need to know is this: Are the mayor and city officials aware of the actual statistics, or are they ignorant?


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita, a recession-proof city. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-recession-proof-city/.
  2. Twitter, January 22, 2019. https://twitter.com/CityofWichita/status/1087832893274157059.
  3. “For 2017, the Wichita metropolitan area GDP, in real dollars, fell by 1.4 percent. Revised statistics for 2016 indicate growth of 3.8 percent for that year. Last year BEA reported growth of -1.4 percent.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita economy shrinks, and a revision. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/wichita-economy-shrinks-and-revision/.
  4. “For all metropolitan areas in the United States, personal income rose by 4.5 percent. For the Wichita metro area, the increase was 2.3 percent. Of 383 metropolitan areas, Wichita’s growth rate was at position 342.” Weeks, Bob. *Personal income in Wichita rises, but slowly. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/personal-income-in-wichita-rises-but-slowly/.
  5. 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.
  6. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee. December 18-19, 2018. Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcminutes20181219.htm.
  7. Yandle, Bruce. Block out the noise: Here’s the 2019 economic outlook. Available at https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/block-out-the-noise-heres-the-2019-economic-outlook.
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