Fact Check: Kansas governor defends economic recovery numbers

Gov. Laura Kelly last week said the state had recovered jobs to near pre-pandemic levels, but her opponent in the Kansas governor's race said that's not true.
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 6:34 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Governor Laura Kelly is defending her assessment that Kansas has restored employment to pre-pandemic levels. Her challenger in the November election, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, says that is not the case -- looking at the data.

Both are using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- just different sets of it. Each gives a different picture of the state of jobs in Kansas.

According to Gov. Kelly, Kansas has seen an increase of 30,000 jobs since 2019. When analyzing employment in the state, the governor points to the number across all sectors. She says the jobs report gives a better picture than what is referred to as the nonfarm jobs report because it includes agriculture, a key part of the state’s economy.

“The numbers that get used way too often for Kansas, because Kansas is an agricultural state, they always talk about nonfarm jobs. Add farm jobs, and you add non-profit, and you add domestic workers jobs and small business jobs because sole proprietors are not counted in that tally,” said the governor.

Employment data across all sectors show that in January 2019, 1.44 million people were employed. In February 2020, that number was 1.45 million. Two months into the pandemic, employment in Kansas dropped by nearly 150,000 jobs to 1.3 million in April. As of the latest job report in June, 1.47 million people were employed, just 20,000 more than just before the pandemic.


Attorney General Derek Schmidt points to nonfarm, which presents a slightly different picture of employment in Kansas. This includes a focus on sectors like manufacturing, hospitality and healthcare hit hard by the pandemic.

“We are at 44th in terms of the rate of jobs recovered. That’s BLS data, so all those things are certainly better today than they were during the pandemic. Everyone agrees on that. The question is why are we coming back at a slower rate than many of our competitors?” questioned Schmidt, the Republican Gubernatorial Nominee.

In the nonfarm numbers, going back to January 2019, employment was at 1.42 million people. In February of 2020, it was 1.43 million that number dropped in April to 1.29 million. By June of this year, it was 1.39 million. That is still more than 31,000 jobs short of the levels seen before the start of the pandemic.


“Kansas lost 157,000 jobs in March and April of 2020, and only about 79 percent [jobs] back in terms of the number restored. To put that into context, the nation as a whole is nearly 100 percent restored, about 98, 99 percent,” said Schmidt.

The Kansas unemployment rate in June was at 2.4 percent, near historic lows for the state.

A statement from Governor Kelly’s office on employment said: “Governor Kelly understands many Kansans are still getting back on their feet and are worried about rising costs. The Governor was noting that Kansas has recovered from the pandemic quickly and, thanks to her laser focus on bringing jobs and businesses like Panasonic to the state, we are now in a position to grow faster than ever before. Governor Kelly has brought in $13.6 billion in business investment – the most per capita of any state in the country, created and retained nearly 50,000 jobs, and invested $50 million in small businesses impacted by the pandemic. That work has paid off: Kansas’ unemployment rate is at record lows.”

On the unemployment number, Schmidt said, “There are 20,000 fewer people working in Kansas today than they were in January of 2019. That is the size of the city of Junction City. Folks who have left our workforce. Now it’s true that the unemployment rate is very low, but the reason that the unemployment rate is very low is there hasn’t been an explosion in the number of people ready, able and willing to work. It’s that the number of people trying to work, looking to work has been diminished so substantially.”

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