April 15, 2015
By Gary Brunk
Kansas needs an economy that works for everyone, where opportunity is available to all. To make that happen we need to restore revenues – and it needs to be done by repealing the 2012 income tax cuts instead of raising taxes on low- and moderate-income families.
During the Great Recession, unemployment and wage stagnation dealt a crushing blow to the middle class. Today, more than five years later, far too many families are still struggling to get back on their feet.
One conviction evident in actions taken by legislators during this legislative session is that poor and low-income families are choosing the economic situation they are in. For these legislators, the state’s low unemployment rate is evidence that people who are poor are voluntarily so.
Such beliefs ignore the fact that the recovery from the recession has bypassed a large number of Kansans who remain poor despite being employed.
Take income growth. Between 2009 – when we began recovering from the Great Recession – and 2012, overall income in Kansas grew 7.3 percent. That seems to indicate good news, but it obscures the fact that the top 1 percent of earners in that period grew 37.5 percent, while for the other 99 percent income grew by a sluggish 2.2 percent – less than inflation.
In other words, income growth in Kansas since the recession has disproportionally flowed to the wealthiest Kansans, who’ve captured almost three-quarters of all income growth.
The growing wealth gap seen in Kansas is not good for the broader economy. A healthy economy is built on consumers and spending. We must face the fact that too many jobs in Kansas don’t pay enough for families to make ends meet. If Kansas policymakers stay the course, don’t expect this to change in the future. Seven of the 10 occupations that the Kansas Department of Labor projects will have the largest numerical growth by 2022 are low-wage jobs.
This is not inevitable. We can plan for the future by making investments in education, infrastructure, research and the health of our people. But to do this we need to restore lost revenues so that Kansas can make those essential investments. And we need to do it in ways that are fair and benefit all Kansans.
Gary Brunk is the executive director of the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs. KACAP is the membership association for Community Action Agencies in Kansas that are working to create economic opportunity and end poverty in their communities.