A Productive Work Force


On the Job | Census and Labor Department data show that the KC region is driven by workers who miss fewer shifts and are more productive than their peers in most metro areas.

Some day, some plucky member of Congress might convince the bean-counters at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that it would be a good idea to gather and release data on work-force productivity by, say, state, congressional district, or even city and county levels.

So what’s stopping that from happening? Maybe this: What if you were the politico who made the request, and it turned out your district or home base was bringing up the rear? That something you want splashed across the nation’s business media? Not a good way to enhance re-election prospects.

To be sure, there are probably a lot of good reasons for federal officials to refrain from city-by-city comparisons on the quality of respective work forces—perhaps the best of which is, the very concept of worker productivity varies so dramatically from one sector to another, and states have hugely diverse business sector components. Coming up with a universal, measurable standard, then, is probably not in the cards.

But that’s not to say we’re completely without a clue for market-to-market comparisons. Other statistical measures at the BLS, Census bureau and other agencies shed a bit of light on how the Kansas City area’s work force holds up, at least against national averages, if not with respect to competing metro areas. To wit:

  • GDP Growth. Yes, GDP is measured on more than just a national scale. Between 2011 and 2016, the national GDP growth came to 21.04 percent. But the Kansas City Metropolitan Statistical Area fared considerably better—our GDP rose a healthy 22.96 percent over that span, outperforming the nation as a whole by 1.92 percentage points. Two observations from that: First, 1.92 percentage points may not sound like much, but on a scale this vast, it is truly an impressive figure; second, that a fair number of cities must be underperforming that national figure to produce an average that far below our own reading.
  • Unemployment Rates: While the nation’s jobless rate was hovering at 4.1 percent this spring, the core counties that make up and immediately surround Kansas City proper weighed in at 2.9 percent (Platte, Johnson), 3.2 percent (Clay), and 3.8 percent (Leavenworth). Overall, the MSA jobless rate was 3.6 percent.
  • Broader Jobless Measures. The BLS tracks under-employed individuals and compiles a jobless rating that is well above the traditional measure of unemployment, the so-called U-6 rate. Nationally, that figure was 8.3 percent in the first quarter of 2018 (which is why this recovery often times feels like there’s greater unemployment than is officially recognized). Compare that 8.3 percent to the figures closer to Kansas City: more than a full point lower, at 7.1 percent, in Missouri, and an impressive 6.7 percent in Kansas. The evidence suggests that even the harder-core hiring challenges are working more here than across the nation as a whole.
  • And finally, Labor Force Participation Rates. Nationally, only 62.7 percent of the population is working, thanks to the Gray Tsunami of Baby Boomer and other retirements, disabilities or other factors. But in Missouri, the participation rate was more than a full percentage point higher, at 63.8 percent, while Kansas—in the vernacular of statisticians—posts a whopping 66.6 percent rate. Again, more of us who are eligible to work are, in fact, working.

Executives here say they consistently see a Midwestern work ethic that makes a definite impact on their operations, efficiency and profitability. And they say it a lot.

So do we have a productive work force in KC? You bet we do.