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By W. Gardner Selby September 20, 2013

Perry claim about Texas workers makes assumption about wages paid to non-hourly workers

Assailed for Texas leading the nation in minimum-wage workers, Gov. Rick Perry shot back a statistic we hadn’t heard before.

Perry, engaging with Stephanie Cutter, the from-the-left co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, said on the Sept. 18, 2013, edition of the show: "Ninety-five percent of all the wages in Texas are above minimum wage."

We’re in gravy, baby! But is that so?

By email, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed shared the calculations behind Perry’s statement.

Nashed noted that according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, 452,000 Texas workers in 2012 earned the minimum wage or less, accounting for 7.5 percent of the state’s 6 million hourly workers over all.

The Texas minimum wage equaled the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Nationwide, the bureau said, 4.7 percent of hourly workers earned the minimum wage or less.

And those 452,000 minimum-wage Texas workers, Nashed said, accounted for 4.2 percent of the state’s total workforce, counting salaried workers and those paid on an hourly basis, of 10,879,800. The latter figure reflects the number of jobs held in Texas in 2012, according to the government’s payroll surveys.

Nashed’s email continued: "This would tell us that roughly 95.8% of all Texas workers earn at or above minimum wage. And since this is our own analysis of the data, we prefer to round down to 95% to be cautious."

By email, Cheryl Abbot, a Dallas-based bureau economist, did not quibble with the raw figures relied on by Perry.

Then again, Abbot said by telephone that federal surveys of households and employers do not elicit detailed state wage data for employees paid by the week, the month or on other bases such as by the piece. Precisely, she said, the government’s household survey asks someone how much they’re paid only if the respondent says they are paid on an hourly basis.

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In 2012, Abbot said, the state’s 6 million hourly workers represented 57 percent of all wage and salary workers.

So, what about the remaining workers? "Because we don’t have detail on wage levels for the non-hourly (workers)," Abbot said, "I really can’t tell you if any of those people are paid above or below the minimum wage."

Still, she added, she assumes most non-hourly workers are paid more than the minimum wage. "I’m not saying that ‘95 percent’ is out of the realm of reason," Abbot said, just that "I can’t verify that."

By phone, University of Texas economist Daniel Hamermesh told us that Perry’s methodology seems reasonable, though he agreed that because the bureau has no wage information from non-hourly workers, he said, "you can’t know for sure." Another factor, Hamermesh speculated, is that workers who are not legally authorized to live here may be underrepresented in the survey results; neither they nor their employers are likely to reveal extremely low pay rates, he said.

Separately, political scientist Doug Hall of the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute said by phone that while the bureau figures largely support Perry’s statement, any assumption that this means nearly every Texan is reasonably paid--or that low-income Texans are doing particularly well--deserves scrutiny.

For instance, Hall said, the lowest 10th percentile of Texas workers--meaning those who earned less than 90 percent of the workforce--were paid an average $7.84 an hour in 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau survey results analyzed by the institute. That average wage for workers at the 10th percentile placed Texas third-lowest in the nation, besting Arkansas ($7.80 an hour) and Louisiana ($7.71), according to the institute. Hall noted that Texas ranked better in 2000 (7th) and 1990 (12th). (See the state-by-state breakdown here.)

Our ruling

Perry said 95 percent "of all the wages in Texas are above minimum wage."

That conclusion ties to 452,000 of the state’s nearly 10.9 million workers in 2012 being paid the minimum wage or less. But those numbers are incomplete, because the federal agency that analyzes such data doesn’t gauge how much any non-hourly workers are paid.

It seems reasonable to speculate that most non-hourly workers earn more than the minimum wage, but it’s not an across-the-board certainty. We rate this statement as Mostly True.

Our Sources

Email, Lucy Nashed, deputy press secretary, Office of Gov. Rick Perry, Sept. 19, 2013

News release, "Minimum Wage Workers in Texas – 2012," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 12, 2013

Emails and telephone interview, Cheryl Abbot, regional economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sept. 19, 2013

Telephone interview, Daniel Hamermesh, professor, Department of Economics, University of Texas, Austin, Sept. 19, 2013

Telephone interview, Doug Hall, director, the Economic Analysis and Research Network, Economic Policy Institute, Washington, D.C. (Sept. 20, 2013)

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Perry claim about Texas workers makes assumption about wages paid to non-hourly workers

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