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During the Sept. 7, 2011, Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman tried to burnish his economic credentials.
Taking a swipe at Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another Republican presidential candidate, Huntsman said, "I hate to rain on the parade of the Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the No. 1 job creator in this country during my years of service. That was 5.9 percent when you were creating jobs at 4.9 percent."
We decided to check whether Huntsman was right -- and in a tale that only a statistical economist could love, we found that the answer is a lot more complicated than you might expect.
When we asked the Huntsman campaign for data to back up the claim, they directed us to a blog post at National Review Online, the website of the well-known conservative magazine. The item, posted June 20, 2011, compared employment statistics for several governors.
"During Huntsman’s tenure, January 2005 to August 2009, Utah had the best overall job-growth rate of any state in the nation," the item said. "In that same time frame, Perry’s job-growth rate was 4.9 percent. (Minnesota Gov. Tim) Pawlenty’s job-growth rate was negative: The number of jobs in Minnesota decreased by 1.8 percent."
At PolitiFact, we always double-check data in media reports against official statistics, so we did so here as well.
We turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government’s official source of employment statistics. We looked at the Current Employment Statistics database for each of the 50 states and subtracted the number of jobs in January 2005 from the number in August 2009.
As it happens, this period was split between an expansion (2005 through 2007) and a deep recession (2008 and 2009), so a majority of states actually lost jobs over that period. Utah was not one of the job-losing states -- but it also wasn’t No. 1 in the nation, according to this set of statistics, and it actually trailed Texas, undercutting Huntsman’s jab at Perry.
Here are the four states with the fastest employment growth over the period when Huntsman was governor:
1. Wyoming: 9.5 percent increase
2. North Dakota: 7.5 percent increase
3. Texas: 6.5 percent increase
4. Utah: 4.8 percent increase
So Huntsman’s claim gets a False, right? Not so fast.
When we showed our math to the Huntsman camp, they stood by their numbers. They sent us to a page for the state of Utah on the BLS website that backed up the claim Huntsman made during the debate -- the number of jobs in Utah rose by 5.9 percent over the period. Using the equivalent pages for the other three states, we found that Utah exceeded them all -- Texas grew by 4.9 percent, as Huntsman indicated, while Wyoming grew by 4 percent and North Dakota grew by 3 percent.
Using these figures, Huntsman was correct. So what gives?
When we checked with the BLS, a spokesman explained that the way we calculated the numbers and the way the Huntsman camp calculated the numbers are different because the numbers come from different data sets. The data we used come from the Current Employment Statistics, a monthly study of the payroll data at 400,000 businesses, whereas the Huntsman campaign was using data from the Current Population Survey, which is based on a survey of about 60,000 households.
Is one of these data set preferred in this context? The BLS’s answer is yes -- and the preferred method is not the one used by the Huntsman campaign.
"BLS uses changes in the payroll survey to describe job gain or loss," said spokesman Gary Steinberg.
One additional observation, which won’t affect our rating, but which we think is worth pointing out: Utah’s job growth during Huntsman’s tenure didn’t keep pace with the state’s population growth.
Utah’s estimated population grew by 11.4 percent during the Huntsman era, more than twice the rate of job growth as measured by the Current Employment Statistics data. Texas’ population growth over that period (8.7 percent) also outpaced its job growth. However, in the two smaller states, job growth did outpace population growth -- North Dakota, with a population increase of 1.8 percent, and Wyoming, with a population increase of 7.5 percent.
Then again, it’s also worth noting that 34 states lost jobs between January 2005 and August 2009, so any increase in jobs is noteworthy.
Huntsman’s campaign is able to point to government data to support its position that Utah was the No. 1 job creator in the U.S. during Huntsman’s tenure, and we see no evidence that they cherry-picked the data. Still, the BLS itself considers the data set used by the campaign to be less appropriate for the kind of comparison Huntsman is making, and, using the proper data set, Utah is fourth -- pretty high, but not first, as Huntsman said. On balance, we rate his statement Half True.
Transcript of Republican Presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Sep. 7, 2011 (CQ subscribers only)
National Review Online, "Which GOP Candidate Has the Best Job-Growth Record?" June 20, 2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics, main state search page for Current Employment Statistics, Sept. 8, 2011
Bureau of Labor Statistics, main state search page for Economy at a Glance, accessed Sept. 8, 2011
U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Population Estimates 2000 to 2009, accessed Sept. 8, 2011
E-mail interview with Gary Steinberg, spokesman for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sept. 8, 2011
E-mail interview with Tim Miller, spokesman for the Huntsman presidential campaign, Sept. 8, 2011
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