By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — Republican gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt challenged Friday an assertion by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly all 157,000 jobs lost in Kansas during the global economic tsunami created by the COVID-19 pandemic had been recovered.
Schmidt, who has attempted to counter Kelly’s campaign narrative of prosperity on the plains, said the governor’s performance on job creation was worse than advertised. Instead of surpassing the pre-pandemic nonfarm job total in Kansas, he said, the state had restored four of five — or 125,000 — of the jobs lost during that unprecedented period.
“The facts say one thing, but Governor Kelly keeps saying another and hoping nobody notices,” said Schmidt, who is the attorney general. “It’s an election year and the governor’s trying to make up lost ground because she has almost nothing to show for four years in office except budget-busting spending propped up — for now — by Joe Biden’s bailouts.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Kansas employed 1,397,000 nonfarm workers in June. That was 32,000 less than the 1,429,000 nonfarm employees in Kansas during February 2020 before COVID-19 carved a crevasse in the state’s economy during March and April.
Nonfarm employment figures tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics offer a state-by-state estimate of payroll additions and subtractions. However, the numbers don’t capture activity throughout the entire economy because they exclude farm workers and employees in private households, sole proprietorship businesses, nonprofit organizations and some government entities.
On Thursday during a stop in Kansas City, Kansas, Kelly was asked by a reporter about her past references to job growth and economic development in Kansas.
“I know that during the pandemic that everyplace lost jobs, but we have restored those jobs and more,” the governor said.
Brianna Johnson, spokeswoman for the governor, elaborated on that comment Friday. She said the governor understood many Kansans were still “getting back on their feet and are worried about rising costs.” She also said Kelly was making the point that Kansas recovered quickly from the pandemic and would benefit from economic expansion, including the $4 billion Panasonic vehicle battery plant to be constructed near De Soto employing 4,000.
“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,” Johnson said.
She said the Kelly administration collaborated with the private sector to deliver $13.6 billion in business investment. The state’s 2.4% unemployment rate stands at a record low, she said.
The Schmidt campaign emphasized reporting by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that ranked Kansas’ recovery from the pandemic at 44th in the nation.
Among the border states with Kansas, only Colorado has surpassed the full economic revitalization benchmark. Colorado is led by Democrat Jared Polis, who like Kelly has been in office since 2019. Colorado lost 374,000 jobs as a consequence of the pandemic, but has rebuilt its economic standing through generation of 412,000 jobs. The state’s 110% growth figure ranks 12th nationally in terms of the recovery.
The state’s of Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska are led by Republican governors, but none has drawn even with pre-pandemic employment totals. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, in that office since 2015, has come the closest by reconstituting 97% of 98,000 jobs taken by COVID-19.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson took office in 2018 and can take credit for bringing back 94% of 358,000 jobs consumed by the health crisis, which ranks that state 23rd nationally. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Still, in that position since 2019, has presided while the state returned 91% of 169,000 jobs taken by COVID-19.