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Farouk Shami, the Houston businessman running for governor, has guaranteed a job to every working-age Texan if he's elected. He even said he'd pay the state, ahem, $10 million if he hasn't created 100,000 jobs during his first two years in office.
Former Houston mayor Bill White, running against Shami, also trumpets his job record. But Shami suggests that voters can't expect as much from his opponent, arguing that Houston lost jobs during the White administration.
"My capability and my experience is to create jobs, unlike my opponent, who... lost 43,000 in Houston since he took over," Shami said during the Feb. 8 Democratic primary debate. "We are losing jobs."
Indeed? We decided to check the facts.
Kelly Johnson, Shami's former communications director (she resigned with four other campaign staffers Feb. 17), said he was citing the change in the number of unemployed people in Harris County from January 2004, when White was sworn in as mayor, to December 2009, White's last month in office. Johnson said they used county data, which is not seasonally adjusted, because the Texas Workforce Commission's available numbers for the city didn't date to the beginning of White's tenure.
Using the same data, we calculated that after six years, 42,325 more people were unemployed in Harris County than when White took office.
But that doesn't mean Houston lost 42,325 jobs.
Cheryl Abbot, a regional economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, advised us that unemployment data is used to track how many people are out of work, but it's not the right way to determine how many jobs have been gained or lost. Because a working person can have more than one job — and can lose a job but remain partially employed — the number of workers does not equal the number of jobs.
To gauge how many actual jobs are on the books, Abbot directed us to nonfarm wage and salary employment numbers. The Texas Workforce Commission doesn't track that data by county, but by metropolitan area. We found that the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area gained 278,700 jobs between the month White took office and December 2009, when he left.
Johnson said Shami's campaign didn't use the raw number of nonfarm jobs gained or lost because that approach doesn't take into account population growth over time. Houston's population surged by nearly 288,600 between 2000 and 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — and some of those folks did not have jobs.
"The population massively grew when White was mayor, so it's far more accurate to look (at) an unemployment rate (or the) number of people unemployed from when he took office to when he left," she said.
So let's take another look at the number of Harris County residents recorded as unemployed while White was mayor.
The county's annual unemployment rate dropped from 6.8 percent in 2003 to 4.8 in 2008. The 2009 rate isn't available yet, but some 107,403 people were unemployed in December 2008 — when the national economy was reeling. By December 2009, the ranks of the unemployed had grown in Harris County with 164,717 people out of work.
We also found that 137,179 more people were employed in Harris County from the time White took office to when he left.
Shami erred in a couple ways.
First, he distorted unemployment in the Houston area. It's true that the raw number of unemployed people increased by more than 42,000 (not 43,000, as Shami claimed) while White was mayor. But the number of unemployed people doesn't translate to the number of jobs lost in Houston.
Second, Shami chose not to factor in the share of Harris County residents who were employed, which increased during White's tenure.
We rate his claim as False.
Interview with Cheryl Abbot, regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Dallas, Feb. 10 and 17, 2010
Interview with Ann Hatchitt, director at the Texas Workforce Commission, Feb. 12, 2010
Interview with Kelly Jones, former spokeswoman for Farouk Shami's gubernatorial campaign, Feb. 12, 2010
Texas Debates, Race for Governor, Feb. 8, 2010
Texas Workforce Commission, Harris County employment, unemployment and unemployment rates, December 2004-January 2009
Texas Workforce Commission, Houston employment estimates, December 2004-January 2009
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