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One of them struck a meat-and-potatoes campaign theme: jobs.
In a recent campaign email, the Democratic governor claimed: "Oregon today has 100,000 more jobs than it did when I was elected." He repeated the claim to Harry Esteve, a reporter for The Oregonian, for a recent story, and that also got a lot of readers wondering about the figure.
If the number is true, it would be great news in a state where the recession hit harder and lingered longer. We decided to check.
The standard way for economists -- and PolitiFact -- to analyze such statements is to use data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s source for employment data.
The two most commonly cited sources of bureau data are a survey of households and a survey of employer payrolls. The first sample is smaller but more detailed. But for measuring raw numbers of jobs, payroll data is preferred.
Within that data, "non-farm jobs," tallied monthly, are the most commonly used. Nick Beleiciks, an employment economist with the Oregon Department of Employment, said that’s because every state keeps those figures, making them comparable.
To make comparisons over time, economists prefer "seasonally adjusted" numbers to smooth out cyclical differences.
So we used the bureau’s interactive website to find the seasonally adjusted figures for non-farm jobs in Oregon when Kitzhaber was last elected, in November 2010, and for March 2014, when the email went out.
Here’s what we found:
November 2010: 1,609,600
March 2014: 1,708,900
So Kitzhaber’s claim is very close to accurate. It’s mirrored in the unemployment rate, according to bureau data, which fell from 10.4 percent in November 2010 to 6.9 percent this past March.
Job growth in Oregon even exceeded the national rate during that time, 6.1 percent to 5.8 percent, according to BLS figures. In March, Oregon’s seasonally adjusted monthly job gain of 8,900 jobs was the largest since November 2005, when 9,300 jobs were added.
Still, two points detract from the accuracy of Kitzhaber’s claim.
First, the claim is ever so slightly cherry-picked. He could have started the clock the month he was sworn in -- January 2011. That time frame would have produced an increase of 94,000 jobs. Christian Gaston, a Kitzhaber campaign spokesman, agreed that the start time should have been pegged to the start of Kitzhaber’s latest term as governor, not the final two months of Ted Kulongoski’s second term.
Second, while Kitzhaber did not personally claim credit for creating 100,000 jobs, he did cite the statistic in an email that began, "Four years ago, you stood with me as together we promised Oregon that we could make critical progress on education, healthcare, and rebuilding our economy, even in the face of a significant partisan divide."
Clearly, he’s aiming to make sure he and his administration get some credit for the job growth. But we should make clear that governors are not all-powerful in shaping their state’s economy. Their policies on taxes, spending and economic development can make a difference, but state economies are also tied to the national and global economies.
Kitzhaber’s email said, "Oregon today has 100,000 more jobs than it did when I was elected." He’s essentially correct on the numbers. Technically, it’s 99,300 – though it’s important to note that it would have been 94,000 if he had counted from the time he was sworn in and affecting policy. It’s also important to note that governors have a modest influence on their state’s economy. We rate the claim Mostly True.
Telephone interview, Nick Beleiciks, employment economist, Oregon Employment Department, May 12, 2014.
Email from Beleiciks, May 12, 2014.
Bureau of Labor Statistics interactive website.
Emails from Christian Gaston, Kitzhaber campaign spokesman, May 12/13, 2014.
Oregon Employment Department jobs report, April/May 2014.
Email from Tara Sinclair, economist, George Washington University, May 13, 2014.
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