Closing racial disparity in income will bolster Kansas economy

Emily Fetsch
Feb. 12, 2018

Too many Kansans are not able to reach economic security. From difficulty finding a job to not receiving livable wages, people across the state struggle to make ends meet.

But not every Kansan’s experience is the same.

A new report from the Kansas Health Institute, Chartbook: Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in a Changing Kansas, shows that some Kansans are more likely than others to make low incomes and struggle financially. While every Kansan would benefit from economic policies that result in higher wages, more should be done to address the structural barriers to opportunity that creates disparities in income among racial and ethnic groups.

The median household income for the average Kansan is $52,205, according the report. However, examining median household income by race highlights stark racial disparities. White Kansas households have 1.6 times the median household income of African-American Kansas households and 1.4 times the median household income of Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native households. On average, white Kansans earn:

  • $21,743 more in median household income than African-American Kansas households.
  • $15,303 more in median household income than Hispanic Kansas households.
  • $14,760 more in median household income than American Indian/Alaska Native Kansas households.

Some of the disparity in income is due to differences in educational attainment. However, research also shows that income disparities exist while controlling for education. In fact, while some disparity can partially be explained by “differences in education, labor force experience, occupation or industry and other measurable factors,” part of the income gap between races can also be attributed to racial discrimination.

Income disparity related to race and ethnicity is a problem that has existed for centuries and continues today. However, with changing demographics across the state, wage disparities for Kansans of color will have future economic ramifications for not just individuals, but the entire state economy. The percentage of Hispanic children in the state is increasing, from 11 percent in 2001 to 18 percent in 2016. Conversely, the percentage of Kansas children who are white has declined by 9 percentage points, from 76 percent in 2001 to 67 percent in 2016. If the increasing number of children of color in the state enter an economy that fails to recognize the worth of every Kansan, our economy will suffer.

These demographic changes highlight the need for policymakers to identify ways to make the economy fair for every Kansan. The inability to address racial disparities will lead to a weaker economy and limited economic growth for the entire state.

Emily Fetsch is the Kansas Center for Economic Growth’s policy and research analyst.

ClayClosing racial disparity in income will bolster Kansas economy