As Americans mark Labor Day, let’s look at how Kansas workers and the state are faring by keying in on some important numbers.
That’s the number of jobs reported by the Kansas Department of Labor for July 2018.
It’s an increase of about 20,000 private-sector jobs from July 2017, according to state officials. Kansas job growth has been sustained for more than a year, which is good news for the state.
Job growth over the last 10 years has been unsteady. Booming agriculture and oil markets helped Kansas recover after the 2008 recession. Then job numbers slipped with declines in those sectors.
Cuts in the state income tax – for some, total elimination – failed to create jobs or grow Kansas’ economy. The cuts did blast a $1 billion hole in the state’s budget, creating a chronic and severe crisis.
Since Kansas restored some sanity to tax policy, the state’s job numbers have grown for 14 straight months, according to state officials. That’s more coincidence than cause-and-effect. But it’s a fact worth remembering when politicians promise that cutting taxes will create jobs.
That’s the size of the state’s labor force, and it’s one of the more troubling numbers facing Kansas.
The size of our labor pool continues to shrink, in contrast to the slowly growing labor pool nationwide.
And a related figure, the percent of working-age Kansans who have or want jobs, isn’t growing either. In July, Kansas’ labor force participation rate was 66.4 percent. That was down a fraction from a year ago, and down significantly – from about 70 percent – compared to 10 years ago.
It’s hard to see how Kansas will grow much economically if we aren’t able to grow our labor force.
That’s how much the average hourly wage grew in Kansas from July 2017 to July 2018.
Nationally, the average hourly wage from July 2017 to this July fell slightly. Kansas average hourly wage in July was $24.15, compared to the national average of $27.05, according to federal data.
By comparison, average CEO pay increased 18 percent in 2017, compared to 2016, according to the liberal think-tank Economic Policy Institute. Although the periods being compared aren’t the same, it’s worth noting CEO pay is rising about 14 times as much as U.S. hourly wages.
That’s the rate of inflation between July 2017 and July 2018.
For many Americans, the cost of living is rising faster than any pay raises they are getting at their jobs.
Higher costs for most middle-income and low-income families are not offset by federal income tax cuts. Those cuts won’t cover even the higher costs of health care, much less higher costs for fuel and housing.
How much workers and families benefit from federal tax cuts depends on earnings, the state in which they live and other factors. But most economists agree that the tax cut and tight job market have not pushed wages up enough to be of significantly aid middle- and low-income workers.
That’s the annual difference in average pay between someone with a high school education and a worker with a college degree, according to a report from Marketplace. (That’s the business-oriented program you might have heard on public radio.)
When it comes to boosting wages, Americans need to act on their own behalf. No president, governor or tax cut will be as effective at ensuring the futures of Kansas workers.
If you want to earn more, improve your chances of getting and keeping a job, and help ensure your long-term financial security, education is the way to go.
It can be tough and expensive, but it’s a good investment. And if a four-year degree isn’t possible, consider other post-secondary education. As Forbes pointed out in a recent article, skilled workers are needed in several growing sectors. And there are good two-year colleges that train those workers.
Forbes named two Kansas institutions to its top 25 list of top trade schools: North Central Kansas Technical College in Beloit and Salina Area Technical College.
The best schools, at all levels, are the ones that help their students make the numbers reflect a better life than they did the year before.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.