Where Is Kansas City’s Recovery?
Whither Kansas City? According to local media outlets, the city is clearly on this rise. Millennials are moving downtown, residential developments are multiplying, and new sources of employment are entering the city. Capping it all, the Royals had a fantastic season, which was enough for the Kansas City Star to roundly praise past public subsidies for Kauffman Stadium. The story is clearly growth.
But census data paints a different picture of the metropolitan area and the city itself; a picture of falling income, rising poverty, and slow population growth. Kansas City was hit hard by the recent recession, and simply put, the city has not seen a recovery in terms of income.
Census data shows that employment is increasing in Kansas City since the recession, but total employment is still significantly below prerecession levels. That may be partially explained by lower labor force participation and fewer households. The income data is more troubling. The median household income from 2010 to 2013 is still almost $3,000 lower than it was from 2007 to 2009, not accounting for inflation. When that adjustment is made, real income has been on a continuous decline in the city since 2009.
A similar trend exists in Johnson County and the metropolitan area as a whole.
The recession caused poverty levels in Kansas City and surrounding areas to spike, and they have yet to significantly recede. Poverty levels were actually higher from 2011 to 2013 than they were from 2009 to 2011 (which includes the recession). As with income, Kansas City has yet to see anything that could be described as a healthy recovery. The following chart demonstrates recent trends:
There’s plenty of excitement and optimism in Kansas City, and that’s no bad thing. But much of the excitement seems to be for prestige projects, entertainment venues, and young people in the downtown area. If that attitude allows people to forget that for most people in Kansas City there really has not been a recovery, much less a renaissance, then the optimism may be counterproductive.