Kansas vs. USA by Gregg Motley

Gregg Motley. President of the Regional Economic Development, Inc. Submitted photo.


My writings have been primarily focused on Bourbon County and how we stack up to the counties in our area; however, it is wise to take a step back periodically and see how we fit into a larger context. Census trends over the last ten years for the United States of America and Kansas can be a window into our past and a foreshadowing of our future.

Census data indicates that our national population growth rate has been declining over the past few decades, caused by lower birth rates and the aging of the historically large Baby Boom generation. In fact, without immigration, the USA would have been near zero growth over the last 10 years. This would explain why the growth rate of Kansas lagged behind the national average by 4.2 percentage points at 2.1%; we tend to welcome fewer immigrants every year than east and west coast states. That is illustrated by the fact that the Kansas white population is 10 percentage points higher than the national number of 76.3%; we lag significantly behind in every ethnic group. The diversity numbers are the lowest in Southeast Kansas counties, where every county in the region lost population between census dates.

Surprisingly, Kansas tends to be younger on average than the USA as a whole, especially in the under 18 demographic. Kansans are still having children, while other parts of the country are relying upon migration or immigration for growth. The percentage of Kansans over 65 is slightly below the national average, despite Bourbon County being 3.7 percentage points above the average. Bourbon County has more retired people and additional people too young to earn a wage. Tough factors to overcome.

An important indicator is housing, and the numbers are a little foreboding for locals. The average home value in the state is $151,900 versus $217,500 nationally; in Bourbon County, the number is $82,700. Unfortunately, the average Kansan pays a slightly higher monthly cost for their undervalued home compared to the other 49 states and US territories; a symptom of the high real estate tax phenomenon we all endure.

Lastly, the health care/poverty statistics could be our biggest challenge as Kansans and residents of Bourbon County. The national poverty rate has been declining and stands at 10.5%; that number is 11.4% for Kansas and 15.6% for Bourbon County. To make matters worse, Kansas is 1.4 percentage points over the national average of citizens without health care insurance at 10.9%, and we have a much higher percentage of disabled residents under the age of 65, especially in Bourbon County. This means more stress on our local safety net and health care services.

Who is leading the growth in the USA? Energy sector states such as North Dakota, low tax/regulation states such as Texas and Florida and states conducive to immigration like New York. Because our energy sector is not large, higher taxes, and minimal immigration, expect rural Kansas to struggle to maintain population in the foreseeable future.

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