Wichita’s recession job losses drag down Kansas; small counties are ‘bright spots’

06/29/2013 5:01 PM

08/06/2014 2:28 AM

Five years into recovery, Kansas still hasn’t regained all of the jobs it lost in the recession – and there is one big reason: Wichita.

The Wichita metro area, as of May, remains 16,000 jobs down from 2008. Sedgwick County is by far the worst of the state’s 105 counties for job losses. Neighboring Butler County is second worst, and Harvey and Sumner are close behind.

The Wichita area’s jobs drain pulls Kansas into the negative column. Counting the Wichita area, Kansas is down 9,000 jobs from May 2008; without it, the state is up about 7,000 jobs.

Kansas has seen a 0.6 percent decline in jobs since 2008. In the same time period, the United States has seen a 5 percent gain.

The numbers only hint at the cost for people’s lives.

Barbara Hyle was laid off last year from Cessna Aircraft, where she was a marketing coordinator. Since then, she’s spent time networking, applying for jobs, interviewing – and getting frustrated. She and her husband had just bought a house based on two incomes. Her unemployment check now goes to pay the mortgage. The first 26 weeks of checks are about to run out, and she’s anxiously waiting to see if she qualifies for an extension.

“It’s just been rough,” she said.

The good news for Kansas is that much of rural and small-town Kansas has seen job growth, driven by more oil drilling and services, and the growth in services due to the overall wealth increase from farming, as well as government transfers such as Medicare.

Meanwhile, the state’s traditional growth engines, its bigger cities, have been down or flat. Johnson County is up about 2,700 jobs, or 1 percent over 2008 levels. Topeka is up 500 jobs and Leavenworth is up 400 jobs. But other populous counties – Riley, Douglas, Reno and Saline – all saw modest declines. Wyandotte County data show that it had exactly the same number of jobs in May 2008 as in May 2013.

“Manufacturing is still soft, and Johnson County isn’t growing,” said Donna Ginther, director of the Center for Economic and Business Analysis at the University of Kansas. “And so what we have is a very slow recovery with some bright spots in small counties. It’s uneven growth, uneven distribution.”

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