New numbers released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday show that Kansans’ real household income continues to drop and more state residents are living in poverty than any time in the past three decades.
The numbers show that while median income has risen slowly in actual dollars, in inflation-adjusted dollars, Kansas has fallen to its lowest point since the tail end of the recession in 1995.
Kansas median household income is now about $4,000 less than the national average – a change from 10 years ago when state and the nation were almost even.
The Census Bureau plans to release more detailed numbers next week, but the figures released Wednesday give a first look at where the state is and where it’s been since the 1980s.
The income numbers cover a period from 1984 to 2011.
About 402,000 Kansans were living in poverty in 2011, up from 400,000 in 2010.
The current figure is the highest in the Census’s poverty report, which goes back to 1980.
Population growth reduced the poverty rate from 14.5 to 14.3 percent from 2010 to 2011, but both those numbers are historically high in a state that has seldom topped 13 percent.
Since 1980, the poverty rate has only been higher once, in the 1994 recession, when it hit 14.9 percent.
And the past 10 years haven’t been easy, even for those who managed to stay more-or-less employed and avoid poverty.
Randy Owen of Wichita is typical of those who have been tossed around by the economy.
An aircraft painter, he worked a comfortable 21 years for Boeing Co. until 2005, when the plant was sold to create Spirit AeroSystems and the new company didn’t offer him a job.
Owen worked for Cessna Aircraft for about three years and about a year with Hawker Beechcraft, but he was laid off by both companies because of declines in the business jet market.
He said he’s about to return to Cessna, “doing the same thing I was doing when I was there three years ago.”
He wants to start now but has been delayed about a month by academic and physical tests he has to pass before he can return to the factory floor.
He said his salary and retirement benefits will be about half what they were when he worked at Boeing.
“Everything went pretty well downhill since then, except my age,” he said.
The Census figures show Kansas median household income in actual dollars has risen in fits and starts over the past 10 years, going from $42,619 in 2002 to $46,147 in 2011.
But when the Census adjusted the income figures into 2011 dollars to account for inflation, it showed Kansas households have actually lost about $7,000 a year in real annual income in the past 10 years.
By that measure, the Kansas median household income has dropped from $53,282 to $46,147.
Kansas also continues to fall behind the rest of the nation, according to the Census.
In 2002, the actual state median household income was $42,619, slightly higher than the national figure of $42,409.
But since then, the national median income has increased $7,645 to $50,054, more than twice the $3,528 increase in the Kansas median income.
The state Labor Department says things may not be as bad as the Census numbers indicate.
Its chief economist, Inayat Noormohmad, said the department relies more on per-capita personal income figures from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, which he thinks are more reliable.
Those figures show Kansans faring better compared to the rest of the nation.
The bureau numbers show the average income for an individual in Kansas was $40,481 in 2011, compared to the national per capita income of $41,663.
By the bureau’s yardstick, Kansas income rose $10,739 in the past 10 years, compared to a national average increase of $10,182.
The difference, Noormohmad said, is in the way the two agencies gather their data.
The bureau takes all the income paid to the people in a state in a given year and then divides it by the population. The Census data is gathered by surveyors who contact households to get income information.
“It’s not surprising they come up with different estimates,” he said. “Two different methodologies are going to come up with two different results.”
Noormohmad’s boss, Labor Secretary Karin Brownlee, spent Wednesday flying around the state with Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan and Commerce Secretary Pat George, promoting Gov. Sam Brownback’s plans to turn the economy around.
The linchpin of the plan is income tax cuts, mainly for businesses but with some tax relief for middle-class taxpayers.
Brownback came into office in 2011 with two primary goals, Jordan said.
“One is how do we increase the net income of Kansas families and two is how do we increase private sector employment in the state,” he said.
Brownlee said the tax cuts passed in this year’s legislative session translate to more money in Kansans’ pockets, which is the equivalent of rising wages when it comes to managing a household budget.
The goal of the business tax cuts is to give companies more money to invest in themselves, thereby creating more jobs.
“As employment grows, there’s the potential for higher wages,” she said.
Brownlee said agricultural wages had been growing until this year’s devastating drought. She said she expects that to pick up again once conditions for farming improve.
She also said increased fossil fuel production, possible now with new techniques to unlock formerly unprofitable oil and gas pockets, also could generate more and higher-paying jobs.
The Brownback administration is working to cut regulations to encourage more production in the oil and gas fields.
In addition, the state is putting a lot of effort into the high-paying biological science industry, anchored by development of a “bioscience corridor” in northeast Kansas and the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, a federal anti-terrorism laboratory being developed near Kansas State University in Manhattan, she said.
“There aren’t any simple answers, but our efforts are moving in the right direction,” Brownlee said.