If Wichita-area companies can’t fill jobs, the declining labor force may be the reason. Who is responsible?
The Chung Report has a recent article noting the low unemployment rate in Wichita. That may make it difficult to fill jobs: “Wichita also has a low unemployment rate, which has seen steep decline in the past five years and now sets at 3.9 percent, below the national average of 4.1 percent. So even if companies are dead set on hiring, do we have the available workforce?” 1
It’s a useful article. But where it could be better, especially when discussing how Wichita companies will find workers to fill anticipated new jobs, is to note the shrinking Wichita labor force.
Here is a table of data for the Wichita MSA from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. 2 It is part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a “monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 3
I chose the year ending January 2011 as a comparison point, as it is near the low point of the great recession. Since then, the unemployment rate has fallen greatly, and is just half the rate of 2010.
But that isn’t the total story. It isn’t even the most important part of the story. Since the unemployment rate is a ratio, it has two moving parts, specifically the number of unemployed people and the number of people in the labor force. (The labor force, broadly, is the number of persons working plus those actively looking for work.)
It is possible that the unemployment rate falls while the number of people employed falls or rises slowly. This is the general trend in Wichita for the past seven years or so. The nearby table illustrates this. The labor force has fallen, and by a lot, while employment growth has been modest.
In fact, of the changes, we can say that 35.2 percent of the change in the unemployment rate is due to new jobs, while 67.8 percent of the change is due to a smaller labor force.
So when Wichita leaders ask “Do we have the workforce?” the answer might be no. The next question ought to be “Why not?”
Our leaders are quick and eager to take credit for economic development gains. But what about the shrinking labor force caused by the many of the same leaders and their policies?
As the proverb says, “Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.”
- The Chung Report. Predicting Future Jobs. Available at https://thechungreport.com/where-are-all-the-new-jobs/. ↩
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. Available at https://www.bls.gov/lau/. ↩
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/. ↩