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Kansas Sees 'OK' Job Growth As Unemployment Rises


Kansas is adding private sector jobs, but not as quickly as economy-watchers would like.

The latest from the Kansas Department of Labor puts the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May at 4.4 percent, up one-tenth of a percent from April but down very slightly from 2014. A wet spring meant fewer construction jobs. In total, Kansas gained 6,000 private sector jobs last year, growth of about half of a percent.

But how do those numbers square with Gov. Sam Brownback’s assertion that income tax cuts he championed are driving job creation in the private sector?

“I think the big political problem is, how can the governor and the Legislature take credit for doing something special for Kansas when what we’re seeing is largely ... Kansas is just mirroring national trends,” said Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University.

Smith said he’d classify the jobs report out Friday as “OK,” adding that while Kansas added jobs, unemployment also went up. (Counterintuitive? Smith says it's likely due to seasonal factors, such as student workers leaving their university jobs for the summer.)

But OK is not quite the rosy picture Brownback painted earlier this week when he told KCUR’s Steve Kraske “performance is moving up.”

“I always tell my students ... if you want to talk about the government’s influence on the economy, the best analogy I can give you is that it’s like steering an aircraft carrier,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. “You can put a lot of effort in, and you’ll get a very small result.”

Rackaway said Brownback will probably trumpet private sector job growth in the May numbers – while his political opponents argue Kansas isn’t adding jobs fast enough.

That’s why the topline numbers on jobs reports are of little value, Rackway said. Instead, he said Kansans are better off reading down in the report or looking to neighbor states for comparison.

“We’re no better, no worse off than most of our counterpart states,” Rackaway said, “regardless of our policy initiatives.”

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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