The Kansas labor market is in dire straits. According to the September jobs report, the state lost private-sector jobs. To make matters worse, 25,000 Kansans left the labor force stopping their job hunt altogether. The state’s new unemployment rate appears lower but is not moving in the right direction.
After losing 124,000 private-sector jobs in April, the state saw a roughly 30,000 job gain each in May and June. However, the recovery stalled in July and August with gains of fewer than 8,000 private jobs each month. In September, the recovery shifted from “Neutral” to being in “Reverse.” Kansas lost 900 private-sector jobs over the month. One month does not make a trend, but this report projects Kansas’ full economic recovery by summer 2021. “Full recovery,” meaning achieving the same number of Kansans working in the private sector as before COVID.
Examining the labor force, the number of Kansans either working or job hunting, the news looks particularly dire. The state unemployment rate fell to 5.5% (5.9% seasonally adjusted). While this is the lowest unemployment rate since the initial COVID economic shock, a closer look suggests it’s not a sign of labor market improvement. Instead, it means that roughly 25,000 Kansans left the labor force in just one month. What does that mean for society? What does it mean for the Kansas families and communities when workers forgo work?
It means less opportunity for Kansas families to create wealth. It means bills piling up, personal debts unpaid, and growing worries about the future. Joblessness can mean more self-doubt, more anger, and depression. For those 25,000 Kansans, joblessness threatens all they have worked so hard to earn. It also jeopardizes the state budget. Fewer people working, or even hoping to find a job, also means a more prominent draw on government services at a time when tax revenue is plummeting. In Kansas, the unemployment rate continues to move lower because Kansans are giving up the job search. Again, that isn’t a good thing. Now the state’s job market reflects that fact, with the state recovering stalled and now actually losing jobs over the prior month.
Policymakers must balance public health with economic growth. Kansas needs fewer restrictions that dictate hiring and firing and fewer regulations that encumber employers and their employees. Kansas jobs need a balanced state budget, fewer taxes and regulations, and an end to fear-mongering COVID-19 rhetoric.