Democrats are hoping for a Pa. version of the famous 47th out of 50 talking point used against Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
The numbers look grim. According to data compiled by Arizona State University, Pennsylvania was 49th out of 50 states in job creation in March 2013. The same numbers show Pa. was 7th back in January 2011 when Tom Corbett took office.
Unimpeachable proof of the Governor’s failed economic policies?
Democratic Party and other critics of Tom Corbett have trumpeted the 7th-to-49th numbers in recent days. They’ve sent press releases, held two press conferences and compiled web videos. But the numbers are misleading.
“Governor Corbett has overseen a Pennsylvanian economy in decline,” said Pa. Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn. “The last economic report just further illustrates how disastrous Tom Corbett’s economy has been for the middle-class. Tom Corbett is more focused on giving tax breaks to corporations than he is on investing in education, lowering property taxes, and stemming rising tuition costs.”
The Governor rejected the Dems’ criticism in an interview with PAMatters.com.
“Other states were so far down that they grew – percentage-wise, in their area – fast. They had more ground to make up than we did,” he said.
For an explanation of the numbers, PoliticsPA went to the source.
Mark Price is a labor economist with the Keystone Research Center. The Dems’ ‘49th’ number originated when he mentioned it during an interview with Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch which published on April 22.
But Price says the ranking is not a useful measure of Corbett or his policies.
“We had a good recession, relatively speaking. We came out of it stronger. We had a really good first year, and then things drifted back to where Pennsylvania typically is,” Price said.
As a big, older, northern state, Pennsylvania is immune from the boom-and-bust cycles of many of the states that supercede it on the list. Price said Pennsylvania historically falls in the range of 30s and 40s in this ranking.
The reason we ranked 7th in Jan. 2011, he said, is because Pa. weathered the recession far better than other states. The state had added 83,500 jobs at a rate of 1.53% during the previous 12 months.
Price said there are specific problems with the numbers Democrats have chosen to use.
First off, comparing one month to another – in this case January to March – is apples to oranges. So Price said throw out the Dems’ Jan. 2011 figure and look at March 2011 (when Corbett still had had very little tangible impact on the economy).
From March 2010 to March 2011, Pa. ranked 13th and added 90,300 jobs at a rate of 1.63%.
From March 2012 to March 2013, Pa. ranked 49th and had a net loss of 1,800 jobs at a rate of -0.03%. That was second worst of all the states during that period, better only than Wyoming which lost 700 jobs at a rate of -0.25%.
That still looks bad – and it is. Pa. was one of just 2 states to suffer a net loss of jobs by that measure. But the comparison isn’t yet accurate.
Price says a 12-month moving average is more indicative than a simple month-to-month comparison. According the data for March 2013 Pa. was 45th in the nation, adding 32,000 jobs and growing by 0.56%. Those numbers paint a slightly better and more accurate picture of the state’s job market.
By the same measure, in March of 2011 Pa. ranked 6th in the nation. More importantly, the state had added 55,200 jobs and grown at 0.99%.
The state is not in negative territory as the Dems’ data suggest, but Pa. job growth has slowed down.
To boil it down: Pa. hasn’t dropped off a job creation cliff. Rather, the state has remained on a plateau. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has steadily been climbing the hill of recovery.
Likewise, as national unemployment has dipped, in Pa. it remains steady.
In March 2013, Pa. unemployment was 7.9% – identical to its rate in March 2011. The national unemployment rate fell from 8.9% to 7.6% in the same period.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment bumped above the national rate in September 2012 and has stayed there every month since. It’s the longest time since July 2001 that Pa. unemployment has been above the national rate for more than one month at a time.
Corbett and his administration say the number of jobs created is the metric by which they measure success. He’s repeatedly boasted helping to add 110,000 private sector jobs since he took office.
“When you measure rate, there are factors that weight it that have nothing to do with job growth,” said spokeswoman Kelli Roberts. “Hence why a simple volume measure is the correct way to judge.”
But that may not be the best way, either.
“If you ranked by number, you would end up with Pennsylvania always near the top because we’re a big state and we have a lot of jobs,” Price said.
And all this takes as a premise that Corbett actually could control the economy if he tried.
“The economy sucks, and that’s not all the Corbett administration’s fault. In fact, there’s very little that governors can do either good or bad to influence the pace of economic growth,” Price said.
Two areas where Price said Corbett might have made the economy marginally better: big infrastructure spending earlier in his term, and funding to prevent the layoffs of thousands of public sector employees – particularly in education.
In conclusion, there are plenty of ways Democrats can – and will – criticize Gov. Corbett’s economic record. After all, as the party notes in a recent web video Corbett said on the campaign trail that his goal in 2010 was to make Pa. the number one state in job creation.
But the 7th to 49th claim is not an accurate one.