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In-depth: Kansas City economy still year away from pre-pandemic levels

Virus Outbreak Unemployment Benefits
Posted at 6:54 PM, May 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 22:16:52-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City job market has bounced back remarkably well from the pandemic-fueled recession, which started a year ago, but it will be at least another year before the region returns to previous employment levels.

“There’s lots of folks that would like to return to full-time work,” Frank Lenk, director of Mid-American Regional Council’s Research Services Department, said. “They just have to get their childcare arrangements all set back up again. School is partially shut down in some places, and then it’s going to be out for the summer. We expect that by this time next year we will be back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Before the pandemic, the job market in the Kansas City region contracted slightly in early 2020.

According to the Regional Workforce Intelligence Network of Greater Kansas City’s Monthly Workforce report, the number of full- and part-time jobs in the Kansas City region dropped 0.65% from an estimated 1,109,800 in January 2020 to 1,102,600 in March 2020.

But those losses intensified amid region-wide shutdown orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kansas City regional workforce shed 142,000 jobs in April 2020 alone, a staggering 12.8% drop.

While the pace of recovery has been much quicker than during a normal economic recession, metropolitan Kansas City has yet to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.

Within four months, the region had regained 82,700 workers, or 58.2% of those who were initially out of work, by last August.

That employment growth has continued at a pace of roughly 8,800 jobs per month through March 2021, the most recent month for which data was available.

The latest Monthly Workforce report shows an estimated 1,072,900 full- and part-time workers in the Kansas City region — a robust gain of 10.8% in the last 11 months — but still far from complete.

The Kansas City region still has nearly 30,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic — a job recovery rate just shy of 80%.

Expect that pace to slow a bit.

MARC forecasts that the Kansas City region will return to pre-pandemic employment levels in the second quarter of 2022, which is about six months earlier than projections for the U.S. overall.

Of course, returning to February 2020 levels only tells part of the story. It doesn’t account for potential growth lost during the last 14 months and potential growth in other areas.

“The labor force will have actually grown ... so still not everyone will be back to work that may want a job,” Lenk said. “We’re doing a little bit better than the rest of the US, but there’s still a ways to go. It’s going to take some time.”

Retail sales projections are also forecast to shoot past pre-pandemic levels during the second-quarter next year, which is another encouraging sign.

Based on current job-posting data MARC uses, two of the top three most in-demand jobs right now are truck drivers and nurses, fields that regularly face labor shortages.

Nearly 4,300 of roughly 96,500 job postings listed May 8 are for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, which is the most in the Kansas City region.

Retail sales jobs rank second (3,804) followed by nurses (3,567), stockers/order fillers (3,132) and retail sales supervisors (2,704).

The rest of the top 10 most-common job postings are: food-service supervisors (2,413), general sales (2,366), fast-food/counter workers (2,252), customer-service representatives (1,853) and software developers (1,775).