In an April TV ad by Gov. Rick Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work, the narrator states: "Florida’s unemployment tripled. 800,000 jobs gone...." and reels off other bad news economic statistics. "Which governor took Florida to the bottom? Charlie Crist."
Crist counter-attacked on his campaign website and argued that the unemployment picture isn’t as rosy as painted by his Republican opponent.
"Floridians understand that Scott’s numbers never tell the whole truth. But, since he insists on talking about numbers, here are some of his own..."
Crist then cites a series of unflattering economic numbers including this one:
"Florida is ranked 2nd in the nation in long-term unemployment."
We looked at the state’s ranking on long-term unemployment and found that there was some truth to Crist’s claim but that the data comes with some caveats -- particularly about Crist’s implication that Scott owns that ranking.
Crist’s claim about the long-term unemployed linked to a February article in the Orlando Sentinel that cited analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. EPI calculated that 46.2 percent of laid-off Floridians were out of work for at least six months in 2013. Only New Jersey and Washington, D.C., were higher, at 46.6 percent.
We interviewed David Cooper, the economic analyst at EPI, who wrote the post in January that included a state-by-state map showing long-term unemployment.
Cooper said that he used the monthly data released by the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate the share of those unemployed 27 weeks or longer by state.
The Current Population Survey, on which the BLS bases its data, is a sample representative for the nation. But when the data is used to drill down to the state level, the margin of error goes up significantly, Cooper said. And drill down even further to those who are long-term unemployed, and "again the margins of error go up even more."
So while Cooper found Florida was in second or third (since New Jersey and D.C. were tied), the margin of error is large enough it could fall anywhere from the second to seventh place range, he said.
"Florida is clearly near the top, (but) where it sits in order is kind of ambiguous," he said.
We sent the EPI report to a few Florida economists. While they didn’t dispute EPI’s numbers, economists noted that there are other ways to measure long-term unemployment.
"The figures provided by EPI are the percent of the unemployed that are long-term unemployed, not the percent of the labor force that are long-term unemployed," said Rollins College economist Bill Seyfried. So that will lead to different rankings, because one starts with the pool of unemployed, while the other looks at the entire labor force.
Seyfried looked at long-term unemployed divided by size of labor force and determined that Florida came in 11th place in 2013.
Florida’s unemployment rate declined considerably in 2013, which resulted in a relative improvement in the percent of the labor force that are long-term unemployed, Seyfried said.
University of Florida economist David Denslow added some caveats to EPI’s data: Unemployment data is difficult to measure because people may not accurately report whether they are actively seeking work and how long they have been unemployed. Also, he said the sample size is small.
"We don't know just where Florida ranks in those data, since the margins of error are too large," Denslow said. "But it is highly likely that Florida is one of the top 10."
Blame on Scott?
Crist’s statement could be interpreted as blaming Scott for the long-term unemployment figures.
Economists we interviewed said that governors can take steps to influence employment, but there are other national economic trends at play that can’t be blamed (or credited) to any one particular politician. Just as Crist can’t be blamed for the nationwide economic crash as the housing bubble burst, Scott can’t be blamed for the state’s long-term unemployment figures as Florida recovers.
Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness, said, "It is a tough sell to push the blame for long term unemployment onto Gov. Scott, particularly since the problem clearly has its roots in the recession that occurred during Gov. Crist's term. Florida shed over 800,000 jobs during Gov. Crist's term and that amount of jobs cannot be recovered overnight. The long-term unemployment problem is more a function of the severity and nature of the recession experienced in Florida rather than any particular policy."
Crist said in a blog attacking Scott, "Florida is ranked 2nd in the nation in long-term unemployment."
An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute ranked Florida second, with New Jersey and the District of Columbia ahead. But there is a significant margin of error to these numbers, and it’s difficult to pinpoint each state’s ranking. Other economists used other measures to come up with a different ranking for Florida.
Also, while governors can play a role in developing jobs, the pace of Florida’s recovery can’t be pinned on Scott.
We rate this claim Half True.