WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A new survey of more than 500 Kansans shows there is a lot of work to do on the state’s economy before residents feel comfortable again.

The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University released its Kansas Speaks Fall 2022 survey at noon Tuesday. The survey is co-sponsored by the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, including KSN news. For the survey, 520 people responded to an online questionnaire between Sept. 19 and Oct. 2.

One of the key topics of the survey is the economy. Food, housing, heating and health care prices are on the rise, and according to a recent poll, voters will consider those costs in the November general election.

Will Kansas economy seriously threaten family’s welfare?

In the Kansas Speaks survey, 77.4% of respondents expressed some level of concern that the state’s economy will seriously threaten their or their family’s welfare over the next year.

More than 19% said they are “very concerned”, an increase of 6 percentage points over last year’s survey.

The number of people who are not concerned at all dropped a percentage point, from 23.7% last year to 22.6% this year.

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When you break down the respondents by age, the people who have the most concern are the ones from 35 to 44 years old. Women are more concerned than men, whites are more concerned than minorities, and Republicans are more concerned than Democrats.

Those with the least concern are people making $75,000 or more a year and people with higher levels of education.

Rating of Kansas economy

With those concerns in mind, it is probably no surprise that more respondents rated the Kansas economy as poor or very poor this year. The negative ratings increased by 3 percentage points since last year to 13.9%.

The number of respondents who think the Kansas economy is good, very good or excellent dropped 4 percentage points, from 59.6% last year to 55.5% this year. The number of people who consider the Kansas economy fair increased by 1.3 percentage points over last year’s survey.

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When you consider the socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents, Kansans who are 65 years and older rated the economy higher than younger Kansans. Those making less than $35,000 a year gave the Kansas economy harsher ratings. Democrats and Republicans rated the state’s economy higher than those who identify as Independent. Respondents with postsecondary schooling were also more favorable about the economy.

Whites gave the Kansas economy more poor and very poor ratings than those who do not identify as white (15.8 to 7%). Both men and women are about the same as far as the positive ratings, but the percentage of men giving the Kansas economy poor ratings is higher than women (15.3% to 12.5%).

How has the Kansas economy changed in one year?

When the survey asked how respondents thought the Kansas economy changed over the last 12 months, 46.1% responded that it was getting worse. That’s 13 percentage points worse than last year’s 33%.

Some people had a positive viewpoint — 18.4% said the state’s economy is getting better. However, that is a drop of 6 percentage points from last year’s survey.

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When you look at political parties, 55.7% of Republican respondents chose “getting worse” compared to 33.5% of Democratic respondents. Of those identifying as white, 50.9% said “getting worse” compared to 29.2% of minorities.

In the income category, 50.4% of those in the middle range of $35,000 to $74,999 said “getting worse” compared to 40.4% of those who make less than them and 47.4% of those who make more than them.

Education’s importance to economic development

The Kansas Speaks survey also tried to see if respondents believe a certain level of education is more important to the state’s overall economic development.

More than 53% said technical and vocational schools are very important. Universities and community colleges came in second and third at 45.5% and 45.2%, respectively.

More than 84% of respondents believe technical and vocational training is important or very important for economic development. Almost 82% believe a community college education is important or very important. And 80% believe a university education is important or very important.

However, 3.1% said universities are not at all important. That was the same for community colleges. Two-point-three percent of respondents said technical and vocational schools are not at all important.

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The survey breaks down which respondents are more supportive of higher education for economic development in Kansas. For example, 59.9% of Democrats believe a college degree is very important compared to 33.5% of Republicans. On the other hand, 4% of Republican respondents said a college degree is not at all important for the state’s economic development, compared to 2.1% of Democrats.

Respondents from both parties think very highly of technical and vocational training — 64.3% of Democrats and 45.6% of Republicans see it as very important.

When you compare the attitudes between men and women regarding higher education, the numbers are similar regarding the importance of a university education to the economy — 77.7% of men and 78.5% of women see it as important or very important. But 4.8% of men who responded say it is not at all important, compared to 1.3% of women.

Both men and women respondents showed even stronger support for the impact that technical and vocational training has on the economy — 83.2% of men and 81.8% of women see it as important to very important.

All three household income levels in the survey also feel strongly about the impact of higher education on the economy, but they gave the highest level of importance to vocational and technical training. Of the respondents who have a household income of $75,000 or more, 80.9% believe a college degree is important or very important, compared to 74.1% of respondents with a household income of less than $35,000.

When it comes to vocational and technical training, 84.5% of the higher-income respondents say it is important or very important, compared to 75% of the lower-income respondents.

Perhaps the most interesting demographic in the survey is the one based on education. Of those who have a college degree or higher, 83.8% believe a college education is important or very important to the state’s economic development, but .5% of them believe it is not at all important.

On the other hand, the respondents who have a college education feel even more strongly about the power of vocational and technical training — 87.4% said it is important or very important.

The Docking Institute conducts the Kansas Speaks survey to measure statewide public opinion on key issues. This year, the Wichita Journalism Collaborative — with funding support from the Wichita Community Foundation — joined the institute as a co-sponsor of the poll.

For a complete explanation of the methodology, see page 7 of the survey report.

The Wichita Journalism Collaborative includes: KSN-TVKMUWThe Wichita Eagle, The Active AgeThe Community VoiceThe Journal (Kansas Leadership Center), The Sunflower, the Wichita Public LibraryPlaneta Venus and The Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.

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