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U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is considered a possible contender for Florida governor when Rick Scott's second term ends. (AP file photo) U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is considered a possible contender for Florida governor when Rick Scott's second term ends. (AP file photo)

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is considered a possible contender for Florida governor when Rick Scott's second term ends. (AP file photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin August 3, 2016

Gwen Graham says Rick Scott boasts about Florida's low wages

A Donald Trump presidency would be as bad for America as Gov. Rick Scott has been for Florida, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham said to delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

At a Florida delegation breakfast on July 28, Graham compared the Republican presidential nominee to former businessman Scott, saying they were both from the "con-man wing" of the GOP. She said Scott has stunted Florida’s economy by keeping it a low-wage state.

"After six years, we’re now the third most populous state, but we rank 38th in wages," said Graham, the daughter of former Florida Gov. Bob Graham. "Scott's actually proud of how low they are. He goes out around the country and advertises that to other states."

We wondered if Floridians really earned so little, and whether Scott was so proud of low wages that he was using it as a selling point for other states. We found Graham was tripped up by details for both parts of this claim.

Low for a reason

Let’s start with that number 38. Graham’s office told us was from Census data from the 2011 American Community Survey ranking median household income.

The first thing to know about that is the figure is out of date. The latest data from the 2014 survey show Florida has actually regressed to 40th.

The second thing to know is that median household income, economists told us, isn’t the same as wages. Wages are a stand-in term for what we’d consider a rate of payment for a unit of time, usually measured in hours.  Income can include things like social security, capital gains, rent, dividends and interest.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics records wage estimates based on several different occupations. The state’s median and mean hourly wages for all occupations clocks in at $15.29 and $20.60, respectively, trailing the national median and mean of $17.40 and $23.23.

Moody’s senior economist Chris Lafakis used the agency’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, and said Florida ranks 30th by that measure.

A big reason for that is because Florida’s tourism-based economy is filled with low-skilled jobs that just don’t pay all that well. Meanwhile, the cost of living here is marginally lower than the national average, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Taxes, not wages

Scott’s refrain for the past six years has been about creating jobs as the state recovered from recession. One of Scott’s methods has been to try to steal jobs from other states (and not necessarily very high-paying ones).

When we reviewed Scott’s statements from these recruiting missions — to places like Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Illinois — we found he did focus quite a bit on the state’s low taxes for businesses. The lack of state income tax also was a major highlight of sales pitches.

A Graham spokesman said she was specifically referring to a radio ad that ran in California during Scott’s trip there in May 2016. The commercial attacked California’s recent move to raise the minimum wage to $15, while touting Florida’s growing economy.

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"Seven hundred thousand. That’s how many California jobs will be lost thanks to the politicians raising the minimum wage," said the ad from Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development arm chaired by Scott. "Ready to leave California? Go to Florida instead — no state income tax, and Gov. Scott has cut regulations. Now Florida is adding 1 million jobs, not losing them."

PolitiFact Florida previously researched whether California stood to lose 700,000 jobs because of the wage increase and rated the statement Mostly False. We learned the figure was a projection of how many jobs California could have added by 2026 if it didn’t increase the minimum wage, not a decline in net employment.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the ad wasn’t Scott bragging about low wages, but rather him pointing out differences between the states’ economies.

"He has never said he is proud of how low our wages are," Schutz said.

It’s possible to argue Scott’s comparison is inferring Florida is benefitting precisely because it’s not raising wages like California. He has certainly been accused of talking up Florida’s low wages, even though he doesn’t explicitly say it.

"By raising the minimum wage in California, 700,000 people are going to lose their jobs, there are a lot of opportunities for companies to prosper in Florida and compete here and that’s what I’m going after," Scott told the Los Angeles Times in May.

But that strikes us more as saying California is going too high, not necessarily talking up that Florida is staying too low. Keep in mind that Florida’s minimum wage of $8.05 per hour is already higher than the federally mandated $7.25 an hour, and is pegged to inflation by law.

Experts told us companies weigh many factors when deciding whether to relocate. Businesses usually are more concerned with how well a labor pool will perform for the compensation they receive.

"That doesn’t mean ‘cheap’ workers, but workers that represent a good value (how productive workers are relative to the cost of hiring workers)," Rollins College economics professor Bill Seyfried said in an email.

Florida also is not the only state faced with lackluster wage growth. Tina Sinclair, an economist at George Washington University, said trying to increase purchasing power is a global problem. She cited an Indeed Hiring Lab report that said real wage growth is lagging overall.

"Only 16 percent of jobs today are both high-paying and saw wage growth at least matching inflation over the past 10 years," she said.

Our ruling

Graham said, "We rank 38th in wages. ... (Rick Scott) goes out around the country and advertises that to other states."

There are issues with the figure she used, which is both outdated and an improper reading of how wages are calculated. But while there’s no question Florida’s wages are low by national standards, it doesn’t appear Scott has boasted (at least publicly) about this fact while recruiting businesses from other states.

The closest example is Enterprise Florida’s California radio ad, which focused on the Golden State’s lower jobs forecast after boosting the minimum wage. While clearly opposing the $15 minimum wage, the ad focused on lower taxes and less regulation, not Florida’s minimum wage.

We rate Graham’s statement Half True.

Our Sources

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, comments to the Florida delegation at the Democratic National Convention, July 28, 2016

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Florida's low-wage jobs nothing to brag about," Jan. 16, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Bousquet: Gov. Rick Scott hopes to poach Pennsylvania jobs," Feb. 16, 2015, "Florida Gov. Rick Scott invites Pennsylvanians to move south for lower taxes: PennLive letters," Feb. 19, 2015

WDRB, "Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to lure Kentucky jobs to the Sunshine State could be working," Sept. 22, 2015

Orlando Weekly, "Low wages cost Florida taxpayers $11.4 billion yearly, SEIU study says," Feb. 24, 2016

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Floridians still recovering from income lost in recession," April 1, 2016

Palm Beach Post, "Why are voters angry despite more jobs? Those jobs aren’t paying much," April 22, 2016

Huffington Post, "Florida Governor Rick Scott Attacks Minimum Wage Increase... In California," April 26, 2016

Tampa Bay Business Journal, "Enterprise Florida ad targets California minimum wage ahead of Scott trip," April 26, 2016

Palm Beach Post, "Sunshine State-Golden State scorecard as Scott searches for business," April 27, 2016

Los Angeles Times, "Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to use the minimum wage hike to steal California businesses," May 2, 2016

PolitiFact, "Florida agency's misleading attack on California's minimum wage hike," May 4, 2016

Orlando Sentinel, "Kassab: Rick Scott shamelessly plugs low wages in Florida," May 5, 2016

PolitiFact, "Jerry Brown’s Half True Claim About California Doubling Florida’s Job Gains," May 6, 2016

Palm Beach Post, "Editorial: Florida’s low wages are nothing to brag about, Gov. Scott," May 6, 2016

Indeed Hiring Lab, "The State of Opportunity: Overcoming the wage crisis in today’s labor market," July 2016

Gov. Rick Scott, "Governor Rick Scott to Kentucky Business Leaders: Book a One-Way Ticket to Florida," accessed Aug. 1, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott, "Governor Rick Scott to Pennsylvania Job Creators: I’ll See You in February," accessed Aug. 1, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott, "Governor Rick Scott to Illinois Business Leaders: Get a One Way Ticket to Florida," accessed Aug. 1, 2016

U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, accessed Aug. 1, 2016

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, accessed Aug. 1, 2016

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, accessed Aug. 2, 2016

Florida statutes, 448.110: General labor regulations, accessed Aug. 2, 2016

Interview with Matt Harringer, Graham spokesman, Aug. 1, 2016

Interview with Jackie Schutz, Scott spokeswoman, Aug. 1, 2016

Interview with Tara Sinclair, George Washington University economist, Aug. 1, 2016

Interview with Bill Seyfried, Rollins College economics professor, Aug. 1, 2016

Interview with Chris Lafakis, Moody’s senior economist, Aug. 2, 2016

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Gwen Graham says Rick Scott boasts about Florida's low wages

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