Kansas unemployment remains high, with 57,000 fewer private-sector jobs in December compared to a year ago; January employment was down about 52,000 over the prior year.

Mainstream media tends to focus on the unemployment rate, which at 3.5% for January sounds low.  But having 52,000 fewer jobs than a year ago tells a more complete picture of the economic challenge that remains.

Moreover, at the lowest point of Democrat Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s lockdowns in April of last year, Kansas private-sector employment was lower than it had been in decades. More than 140,000 jobs were lost in just one month, and by back to school time in August, employment was at 1,105,100 — about 60,000 fewer than the year before.  Job growth was flat over the next four months, with Kansas only adding 4,000 jobs. 

States not locked down lost fewer jobs

Only two states — Idaho and Utah — had more private-sector jobs in December compared to a year ago.  The other 48 states lost jobs, but the states not locked down by their governors fared far better than the rest.

The states not locked down — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — collectively lost 2.9% of their private jobs, but the states locked down by their governors lost 7.1% of their private jobs.

Kansas did slightly better than average, ranking 20th in the nation with a private job loss of 4.3%.  But nearby states Arkansas and Nebraska did far better, ranking fifth and seventh respectively. Arkansas saw private job losses of 2.2% and Nebraska was down 3%; South Dakota was down just 2.2% and Utah, with a similar population to Kansas, had a small job gain of 0.3%

Had Kansas done as well as Nebraska, there would have been about 22,000 more people working in December.

Gov. Kelly wants higher taxes

With over 50,000 people out of work, Governor Kelly is proposing a new 6.5% sales tax on “digital products” such as video and audio streaming services nearly all Kansans use.

Kelly has said that cutting taxes at a time when many are out of work — and struggling even to receive the benefits they are owed due to ongoing problems at her Department of Labor — would be “irresponsible.”

“It would be bad enough to introduce this bill in a normal year, but this year makes it particularly irresponsible,” Kelly said at a Statehouse news conference last month.

Kansas Policy Institute CEO Dave Trabert says Kelly has her priorities backward.

“Governor Kelly should be leading the way to reduce unnecessary spending and provide tax relief, but instead, she’s focused on growing government with more spending and higher taxes.”

Kansas Policy Institute owns the Sentinel.

While Kelly is pushing to add new taxes, a report last month from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Kansas ranks near the bottom of states in real (inflation-adjusted) personal income growth for the third quarter of 2020 compared to a year ago.

Kansas was 48th in total personal income change, with growth of 2.61%; only North Dakota and Wyoming did worse.

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