Post Takes a Look at the ‘Texas Miracle’

In The Washington Post over the weekend, Michael Fletcher did what CJR urged reporters to do last week: he noted that the employment growth behind the “Texas miracle,” which forms part of the argument for Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, rests on a steady increase in government jobs. From Fletcher’s story:

With a young and fast-growing population, a large and expanding military presence and an influx of federal stimulus money, the number of government jobs in Texas has grown at more than double the rate of private-sector employment during Perry’s tenure.

The disparity has grown sharper since the national recession hit. Between December 2007 and last June, private-sector employment in Texas declined by 0.6 percent while public-sector jobs increased by 6.4 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, government employees account for about one-sixth of the workforce in Texas.

The significant role of government in Texas’s relative prosperity stands in stark contrast to the “go-it-alone” image cultivated by Perry, who credits a lack of government interference for fostering a business-friendly environment in Texas.

“The fact is, government doesn’t create jobs, otherwise the last 2½ years of stimulus would have worked,” Perry said this month in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures…

The argument over how jobs are “created” can seem more a metaphysical debate than an economic one, but clearly government institutions can hire “workers,” and those workers then have “jobs”—a process that has played a meaningful part in overall job growth in Texas. It’s good to see the Post follow The Wall Street Journal, The Fiscal Times, and the Austin American-Statesman in noting this disconnect between reality and Perry’s rhetoric.

While we’re here, one more quick thought. If this much-linked analysis by Matthias Shapiro is to be believed, some critics are pointing to the increase of government jobs in an effort to delegitimize Texas’s job performance, saying that the state has an unsustainably large public sector. (Shapiro doesn’t link to the argument’s he’s refuting, so it’s unclear where this claim was made.)

Though Perry and the state legislature chose in the most recent state budget to slash government employment, Shapiro is right that there’s nothing inherently unsustainable about public sector unemployment in Texas. The point is just that as population grows and demand for public services expands, you might expect the number of government jobs to rise. That hasn’t happened everywhere, especially during the recession and in its wake. But it has happened in Texas, and that difference helps to account for the relative health for the state’s jobs picture.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.