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Former Houston mayor Bill White, running for governor, frequently touts his experience leading the country's fourth-largest city, which he casts as an economic powerhouse.
"As Houston's mayor, I helped our area lead the nation in job growth," White wrote responding to a questionnaire from the League of Women Voters of Texas, a nonpartisan group that encourages active participation in government. The league published White's and other candidates' responses in its primary election Voters Guide for the March 2 party primaries.
Houston led the entire country in job growth? Sounds wondrous. We wondered if White was rightfully bragging.
Katy Bacon, White's spokeswoman, pointed us to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that White's campaign used to compare the job growth in the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area to growth in the rest of the United States.
You're reading right: The White campaign compared Houston's job growth to job growth in other states. And it found that over his six years as mayor, Houston gained more jobs than any state outside Texas.
The skinny: Some 244,100 jobs were added in the Houston area during the period, compared to 156,800 in Washington, the state with the second-highest increase in jobs. Texas was first with 943,000 new jobs.
We confirmed those numbers — and found a wrinkle the White campaign overlooked. It turns out that Dallas, which gained 265,800 nonfarm jobs from 2003 through 2009, led the country in job growth.
When we noted that that put the Houston area in the number two spot — in contrast to leading, as White says in the voter guide — Bacon said: "Even if we're number two or number three, we're still leading the nation."
Cheryl Abbot, a regional economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Dallas, guided us to the way she said most economists gauge job growth — by the rate at which jobs increase, instead of the gross number of jobs added. By that calculation, Wyoming led the nation with nearly 12 percent job growth during White's mayoral tenure, followed by Houston (about 10.6 percent), Utah (10.2 percent), Dallas and Texas (both about 9.9 percent).
Abbot's approach seemed reasonable. After all, counting raw job gains for any community or state would give areas with more residents a natural advantage in the competition.
By the same token, relatively few jobs in a place with a small population can have an outsized impact, percentage-wise. Take Odessa, with 21.5 percent job growth, or Grand Junction, Colo., with 14.2 percent.
Another example of the numbers game: Farouk Shami, a Houston businessman and White's opponent in the Democratic primary, has said that the ranks of Houston's unemployed increased by 42,000 people on White's watch. By singling out the raw number, Shami downplays factors including whether employment increased too as population grew, not to mention a devastating recession that affected the entire country.
No matter how the job numbers are sliced, Houston experienced significant job gains while White was mayor. It added more nonfarm jobs than any other state during that time — but still, fewer jobs than Dallas. By percentage, Houston boasted the second highest rate of nonfarm job growth (San Antonio was first) among the 10 biggest cities in the country.
Houston was among the national leaders. But it wasn't No. 1.
We rate White's statement as False.
League of Women Voters, Voters Guide: 2010 primary election edition, accessed Feb. 16, 2010
Interviews with Cheryl Abbot, regional economist, Bureau of Labor Statistics in Dallas, Feb. 10 and 17, 2010
Interview with Ann Hatchitt, communications director at the Texas Workforce Commission, Feb. 15, 2010
Interview with Katy Bacon, spokeswoman, and Tom McCasland, analyst, Bill White's gubernatorial campaign, Feb. 12 and 16, 2010
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment, Hours and Earnings — State and Metro areas, accessed Feb. 16, 2010
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Total Nonfarm State Area Employment Hours and Earning, Houston, accessed Feb. 15
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Total Nonfarm State Area Employment Hours and Earning, Dallas, accessed Feb. 15
Forbes, 10 cities for job growth in 2009, by Tara Weiss, Jan. 5, 2009
New Geography, All cities rankings — 2009 New Geography best cities for job growth, accessed Feb. 17, 2010
Bill White for Texas, Memo concerning total jobs added between December 2003 and December 2009, Feb. 8, 2010
Bill White for Texas, Household survey numbers, Feb. 2, 2010
Bill White for Texas, Payroll survey numbers, Feb. 2, 2010
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