It's the Stupid Economy

Fact-checking Perry's campaign against Texas' financial realities

Employed wage and salary workers paid hourly rates with earnings at or below the prevailing
Federal minimum wage in Texas, annual averages, 1997-2010
Employed wage and salary workers paid hourly rates with earnings at or below the prevailing Federal minimum wage in Texas, annual averages, 1997-2010 (Image from US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics)

It's pretty plain to see what Gov. Rick Perry's election platform will be: Texas, the greatest economy since money was invented. Unfortunately for him, those pesky numbers might get in the way.

It's pretty clear that he will be pandering to the same people that buy gold from TV ads. Yesterday Perry turned up in Iowa to launch a full-blown attack on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, calling any proposal to print more money "almost treasonous" and adding that "we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas."

Perry said that Bernanke's plans would be playing politics with the economy. Not that Perry has ever done that. Oh, wait, hang on, there was that time he accepted $16 billion in Federal Stimulus cash but claimed he was fighting back against DC by rejecting another $555 million. That extra cash would have gone to unemployment insurance. Yet Perry said no, even after his own Texas Workforce Commission Chair Tom Pauken warned that the fund was nearly empty and recommended that Texas take the cash. Expect that little exercise, along with many other bad numbers, to come up along the campaign trail.

Good For Business

Let's start off with the much-vaunted regulation-free Texas business environment. According to the ever-ebullient, utterly pro-free market The Economist, US gross domestic product rose 2.6% over the last year: The GDP in Texas rose 2.8%. That's better than the national average, but barely half of the growth in New York (5.1%) or a third of the growth in North Dakota (7.1%). Even Michigan, which the anti-union crew still paints as an economic basket case, beat Texas with 2.9%. In total, 17 states had larger percentage increases in GDP.

Here's the kicker: Perry has put any and all Texas growth down to the 'pro-business culture' he has fostered through a loophole-laden tax system and a massive system of state-level incentives. Many of those incentive programs are run through the governor's office and were designed to attract big employers from out of state. However, Perry has been accused by Texans for Public Justice of massively inflating the benefit of the Texas Enterprise Fund. Even diehard friends to the GOP like Tom DeLay's attorney Dick DeGuerin were uncomfortable with how it was handled.

It's an issue with old roots: Back in 2009, lawmakers of both parties grilled Perry's office hard over the $120 million he transferred from the unemployment insurance fund into the Emerging Tech coffers, and then how $50 million of that ended up going to his old alma mater, Texas A&M.

About Them Jobs

And what about that Texas unemployment rate? According to the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas is again right in the middle of the pack. The latest figures, released July 22, show a national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in June of 9.2%. The rate in Texas is 8.2%, which is an improvement. However, a state-by-state comparison actually puts Texas 26th.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Texas has fared worse than the rest of the US job market over the last two years. In January 2009, the Texas unemployment rate was 7.7% and the US rate was 9.5%. So while the US rate has dropped by .3%, the Texas rate actually rose by .5%. Hard to spot the miracle there. Maybe Perry can ask Nebraska's Republican Governor Dave Heineman (4.1% unemployment) or Democrat John Lynch of New Hampshire (4.9%) what they're doing right.

Quality, Not Just Quantity

Here's the flat reality. Texas leads the nation in minimum wage jobs. According to BLS statistics from March of this year, the number of Texans earning at or below the Federal minimum wage has increased since dramatically over the last half decade, rising from 3% in 2006 to 9.5% in 2011. That ties Texas with Mississippi for minimum wage workers.

Texas wages generally lag behind the national average. In 2010, the national median hourly earnings for salary and hourly-paid workers was $12.50. In Texas, that number was $11.20.

That is still not good enough for the GOP. In 2009, the AFL-CIO had to lobby hard to kill House Bill 1042 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, which would have made it easier for the Texas Workforce Commission to hire minimum wage contractors. The Texas GOP got even bolder in 2010, including "we believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed" in their platform.

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