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Most Georgians who've spent a few hours in front of a television set this fall have inevitably seen a message from Democrat Roy Barnes that he'll put the state "back to work" if elected governor this fall.
The campaign of Republican Nathan Deal has scoffed at the idea. Deal noted in several television ads that the Peach State led the nation in job losses during one 12-month stretch when Barnes was governor. The Deal campaign said in one television ad that Barnes has tried to hide his record of "historic unemployment."
Barnes campaign aides have fired back.
"Georgia had the worst job losses in state history under GOP watch," the campaign said in a written response to a recent Deal television ad.
Is that true?
Barnes has attempted to make the state's unemployment troubles a major selling point of his candidacy. He served as governor from January 1999 to January 2003 and claimed Georgia created about 235,000 jobs during his tenure. Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the number of Georgians employed during his tenure rose by 234,355 people. Georgia's unemployment rate also rose during Barnes' term, and so did the number of people unemployed.
The man who beat Barnes, Republican Sonny Perdue, also can claim more Georgians had jobs since he took office in 2003. But as with Barnes, the unemployment rate and the number of people unemployed also have increased during Perdue's two terms.
A review of unemployment data does show there have been more job losses since Perdue took charge at the state Capitol.
We looked at the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics website, which has the most detailed unemployment data by state. Its data goes back to January 1976. Georgia's unemployment rate has ranged from 3.3 percent in the final months of 2000 to a high of 10.5 percent earlier this year.
The greatest increases in unemployment under the Barnes administration took place between November 2001 and May 2002, the months the national economy tumbled as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The largest 12-month increase in unemployment took place from February 2001 to February 2002. The number of Georgians who filed for unemployment rose by 56,809 people and the unemployment rate rose from 3.4 percent to 4.8 percent during that time period, the BLS data showed. The unemployment rate never rose above 5 percent during Barnes' tenure.
The greatest increases in unemployment since Perdue was governor started in mid-2009 and continued through the middle of this year. The largest 12-month increase in unemployment took place from April 2008 to April 2009. The number of Georgians who filed for unemployment rose by 175,804 people, according to the BLS data. The unemployment rate rose during that time from 5.5 percent to 9.2 percent. The highest unemployment rate during Perdue's tenure was 10.5 percent, which was February and March 2010.
It's also worth noting that there were slightly more than 1 million Georgia residents more in 2009 than there were when Barnes left office in 2003, according to U.S. census data. The Peach State's population rose from 8.68 million residents in 2003 to 9.83 million in 2009. Presumably, there are more people who need jobs now than there were when Perdue became governor.
State and national Republican Party officials have blamed higher unemployment on the economic policies of President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Both major political parties also say the Great Recession is a big part of the equation.
Robert Ward, deputy director of the New York-based Rockefeller Institute of Government, believes governors have a "minimal impact" on unemployment. Ward directed us to Site Selection magazine, which does an annual review of which states are best to do business, saying that's a better measure to determine a governor's effectiveness. Georgia ranked eighth in the magazine's 2009 survey, which includes the opinions of executives on what's it like to open a business. It also includes new plants and other businesses that opened.
Perdue's spokesman, Bert Brantley, said that because of the Great Recession, it isn't fair to compare job losses during his administration to Barnes'. Brantley said housing, financial services and the travel industry have been particularly hit hard, which is not good for a state like Georgia.
"The things that Georgia is built on are the things that have been hit hardest during the recession," Brantley said.
Ward, the Rockefeller Institute expert, had similar concerns about comparing job losses between these two governors.
"That's not a good way to measure the difference," he said. "There was a recession in [Barnes' term], but much less than this recent recession period."
We agree. The Barnes campaign is technically right about the numbers. The current economy under Perdue is widely considered to be the worst in about 80 years. But it's difficult to say how much blame can be attributed to the state GOP since Georgia's economy operates against the backdrop of a precipitous national downturn.
We believe the Barnes statement needs additional information to be considered in its proper context. Still, we rate it Mostly True.
E-mail from Roy Barnes for Governor, Oct. 12, 2010
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dec. 19, 2003, "State moves ahead. Georgia is fourth-fastest in adding residents."
Nathan Deal for Governor commercials
PolitiFact Georgia, "When Roy Barnes was governor, Georgia created 235,000 jobs," June 4, 2010
Site Selection magazine 2009 business climate rankings
Telephone interview with Robert Ward, deputy director, Rockefeller Institute of Government, Oct. 20, 2010
Telephone interview with Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, Oct. 21, 2010
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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