Census 2000 confirms that despite scant population growth in the 1990s, Kansas City remains at the core of a robust regional economy.
Population in Kansas City has changed little over the last two decades, and the city has dropped from 27th largest in the U.S. to 36th largest. Most neighborhoods in the city and its close-in suburbs failed to grow or actually lost population in the 1990s. Meanwhile, population boomed in the rest of the metro area, growing by a third since 1980. Today, only a quarter of the region’s residents resides in Kansas City. Only a doubling of the city’s immigrant population in the last decade forestalled greater population decline.
And yet, despite the stagnation of their city’s population, residents’ economic condition remained healthy. A high proportion of adults in Kansas City work, and employment is diversified among several industries. The city has a strong middle class, with gains in both moderate-income and high-income households in the 1990s. Real median income grew during the decade. Compared to other Living Cities, Kansas City’s poverty rates remain low, its homeownership rates remain high, and its rental housing remains affordable. Still, significant income and educational attainment gaps by race and ethnicity point to opportunities to build a stronger minority middle class in Kansas City in the coming decade.
Along these lines and others, then, Kansas City in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:
- Kansas City lies at the heart of a rapidly decentralizing region. Kansas City’s population grew nominally (1.5 percent) in the 1990s, after declining in the 1980s. The city itself was divided, however, with most neighborhoods in the southern half stagnating or losing population, and most in the northern reaches of the city gaining. Elsewhere in the metro area, population boomed by 16 percent in the 1990s. Outer parts of Johnson County (KS) and Jackson County (MO) grew rapidly, as did population in all suburban counties. Only one in four metropolitan residents lives in Kansas City today.
- The city’s population is growing more diverse. Like most Midwestern cities, Kansas City’s population remains predominantly white and black. The city lost white population in the 1990s, but gained residents of other races and ethnicities. International immigrants have contributed to the changing profile of the city and region. The number of foreign-born living in Kansas City more than doubled in the 1990s, and more than twice as many settled in the suburbs over the same period. What is more, the city’s immigrant population itself is quite diverse; Mexico is the most common country of birth, but half come from countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
- Some parts of the urban core are attracting new residents, but others contain aging populations. With a little over 37,000 members, the 25- to 29-year-old population represents Kansas City’s largest age group. These younger residents help account for the city’s relatively small household size, and the significant degree of household turnover in neighborhoods around the downtown and northern parts of the city. Many neighborhoods in the city and inner suburbs, meanwhile, house significant shares of elderly residents. The growing representation of seniors is also reflected in the city’s two largest household categories, childless couples and people living alone. Reversing a decline in the number of younger married-couple families in the city could be critical to maintaining neighborhood vitality and fiscal stability.
- Increasing educational attainment and high levels of work contribute to the economic success of most Kansas City residents. Unlike the trend in many other U.S. cities, Kansas City’s income distribution actually “evened out” in the 1990s. Median household income in Kansas City grew at about the national average, and the poverty rate declined. The healthy economic profile of city residents owes to several factors. While unemployment has risen since Census 2000 was conducted, Kansas City’s rate remains below the average for large cities. Likewise, high school and college degree attainment among city workers rank above national averages. Workers are also employed in a diverse set of industries throughout the region. Yet racial differences cut against these trends. As elsewhere, blacks and Hispanics in Kansas City significantly lag whites on educational attainment, and those gaps contribute to large disparities in household incomes by race and ethnicity.
- Kansas City is a “homeowner city,” but some groups are not sharing in the benefits. Among the 23 Living Cities, Kansas City ranks fifth on its homeownership rate, which rose to 58 percent in 2000. The homeownership gap between whites and minority groups widened in the 1990s, however. The black homeownership rate in Kansas City did not increase at all over the decade, and the rate for Hispanics fell. Rents remain relatively affordable, however, and Kansas City ranks last among the 23 Living Cities in the share of renters who face housing cost burdens. While affordability may dissuade some renters from moving into homeownership, it may also present a chance for the city’s families to save for ownership opportunities.
By presenting the indicators on the following pages, Kansas City in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 is intended to give readers a better sense of where Kansas City and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire Kansas City region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Kansas City should take in the coming decade.
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