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In a sluggish economy where the spotlight has been on elected officials’ efforts to boost employment, the state Democratic Party is saying Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s job creation efforts are disappointing.
A Feb. 25 news release from the Democratic Party of Virginia cited statistics from a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released that same day showing Virginia’s monthly unemployment rates during 2010 averaged out at 6.9 percent. That’s a slight increase from the 2009 average of 6.8 percent.
The Democrats also noted the BLS reported a drop in the state’s percentage of working age people with jobs. It fell from 64.9 percent in 2009 to 64.1 percent in 2010.
Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, fired out a news release charging the numbers demonstrate "the governor and his team did not even create enough jobs to keep pace with population growth."
We dove into the BLS numbers to see if Moran is right.
We started with his claim that in 2010 - the first year of McDonnell’s term - Virginia’s average monthly unemployment rate rose .1 percent to 6.9 percent. That’s true, but it provides an skewed picture.
That’s because when McDonnell was inaugurated in January 2010, the state unemployment rate was 7.2 percent -- its highest point of the year. The rate slowly declined the rest of the year and ended at 6.6 percent by December, ranking Virginia 9th lowest in the nation.
In other words, the unemployment rate improved during McDonnell’s first year as governor. And one could make an argument that, when it comes to computing the monthly average for 2010, McDonnell was hurt by a relatively high unemployment rate he inherited from his predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine.
Moran doesn’t go there. Nor does he mention that Virginia’s monthly unemployment rate in 2009 -- Kaine’s last full year in office -- increased from 5.7 percent in January to 7.2 percent in December.
We’re not pointing this out to say one governor performed better that the other. Economists have repeatedly told us that governors have a limited impact on employment in their states. We’re merely pointing out that there’s a variety of ways to interpret these statistics.
Virginia’s 6.9 percent unemployment rate for 2010 was far better than the national rate of 9.6 percent.
Let’s turn to Moran’s second assertion, that percentage of working-age Virginians with jobs fell from 64.9 percent in 2009 to 64.1 percent in 2010. His numbers are correct.
We were curious whether the percentage of the state’s population with jobs continued to improve throughout 2010 just like the unemployment rate did.
To the contrary, the numbers got worse. The percentage of employed working-age Virginians declined from 64.3 percent in January to 63.9 percent in December.
So, as Moran says the population growth did indeed outpace job growth in 2010. But is that McDonnell’s fault?
Howard Wial, an economist and fellow with the left-leaning Brookings Institution, is dismissive of Moran’s use of the BLS statistics to to fault McDonnell.
"I’m not saying the governor is right that he’s been a wonderful job creator or that the Democrats are right in saying he hasn’t been," Wial said. "I’m just saying that these numbers don’t prove anything either way … They don’t show you any connection between public policy and results."
Virginia, with 64.1 percent of its working age population employed last year, out-performed the national average of 58.5 percent. Just like Virginia, the national percentage of working age people who were employed declined by .8 percent from 2009 to 2010.
At the end of Kaine’s term, the percentage of employed working-age Virginians fell by 1.8 percent -- from 66.7 percent in 2008 to 64.9 percent in 2009. So the same argument Moran uses to disparage McDonnell’s performance could also be hurled at Kaine.
Moran uses two sets of data to prove his point that job growth lagged a rise in population during McDonnell’s first year as governor.
He says Virginia’s the average of Virginia’s monthly unemployment rates rose in 2010.While technically correct, a month-to-month review shows the unemployment rate was at a high point when McDonnell took office in January and fell throughout the year. Moran’s use of the annual unemployment rates is misleading and cloaks that improvement.
Moran also cites a drop in the percentage of working-age Virginians who were employed last year. The numbers certainly confirm his claim that state job growth did not keep pace with population growth. So he’s right on the trend, but it’s questionable whether the sluggish job environment can be laid at the feet of a governor who has been in office for a year.
While there is some truth in Moran’s statement, he also uses a misleading figure to paint an inaccurate picture of the jobs situation under McDonnell. We rate the statement Half True.
Bureau of Labor Statistics Regional and State Unemployment Annual News Release from 2/25/11.
Democratic Party of Virginia news release from 2/25/11.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, database of Monthly Unemployment figures for Virginia, accessed on 2/28/11.
Bureau of Labor Statistics database showing annual average employment to population figures accessed on 3/1/11.
Telephone interview with Terry Rephann, a regional economist at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service on 2/28/11.
Telephone interview with Dean Croushore, chairman of the economics department at the University of Richmond on 2/28/11.
E-mail from Dean Croushore sent on 3/1/11.
Telephone interview with Howard Wial, fellow and economist at the Brookings Institution on 2/28/11.
Telephone interview with Sally Anderson, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics on 3/1/11.
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