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Oregon's unemployment rate has hovered around 10.6 percent for nearly a year and a half, a full point or so above the national jobless rate.
Economists have offered a slew of reasons why the state's jobless rate has remained consistently above most other states’. Those explanations range from a net in-migration of new residents, who increase the number of people looking for jobs, to quality-of-life considerations that tend to keep newly jobless Oregonians from wanting to wander elsewhere.
First District congressional challenger Rob Cornilles, the Tualatin Republican taking on veteran Democrat David Wu, has his own views on the matter.
"For each and every one of the 137 months that David Wu has been in Congress," Cornilles' statement in The Oregonian’s Voter Guide asserts, "Oregon's unemployment rate has been above the national average. We deserve better!"
The basis of Cornilles' claim appears to be that policies and practices endorsed by Wu have led to higher joblessness here than elsewhere for the past 137 months, or 11.5 years. Specifically, Cornilles criticizes Wu for "not providing tax certainty" by failing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts; for supporting the federal stimulus bill; and for failing, after during 12 years in Congress, to gain the kind of influence that would help create jobs across the First Congressional District.
He’s right that Wu and the rest of Congress did not extend the tax cuts before the current break. He’s right Wu voted for the stimulus. And on the 137-month claim, Cornilles is also correct.
And then some. But is it fair to link Wu to that statistic?
PolitiFact Oregon looked back to 1976, when the state began tracking employment rates. According to state and federal data, Oregon has traditionally and consistently been above the national unemployment figure.
Only for 66 of the past 418 months, in fact, has Oregon's unemployment rate dipped below the federal rate.
Oregon nearly pulled even with the U.S. rate for the first few months in 2008. Both the national and state unemployment figures hovered just above 5 percent before skyrocketing in ensuing months as the worst overall economy since the Great Depression took hold.
The most recent time Oregon's unemployment rate was below the national rate was February 1996, according to Tom Potiowsky, state economist. That was nearly three years before Wu took office.
"With a few exceptions, we were pretty much below the national average from the mid-1990s until February 1996," Potiowsky said. Oregon's high-tech boom years accounted for much of that boost, he said.
State economists cite several reasons for the state generally lagging behind the nation on this measure.
In addition to the quality of life and net in-migration factors cited above, they include the lack of a really large metropolitan area in Oregon. If the Portland area's population were on the order of 4 million, for instance, it could support a labor market large enough to let someone who had lost a job more easily find a comparable one, said David Cooke, an Oregon Employment Department economist.
Could Wu have done much to reverse any of these factors? Doubtful, Cooke said.
"There are so many factors that influence the economy,'' he said. "One congressperson's actions are a very small contributor, especially when you move down to the state level."
So while Cornilles' 137-month figure is correct, it's quite a reach to imply that Wu had much to do with it. We find his claim is Half True.
Rob Cornilles for Congress website
Cornilles' The Oregonian Voter Guide submission
e-mail exchange with Brock Lowrance of the Cornilles campaign
interview with Tom Potiowsky, Oregon state economist
Oregon Employment Department,Labor Market Information
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Unemployment Statistics
interview with David Cooke, Oregon Employment Department economist
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