In its latest print advertisement, placed Oct. 5 in 41 newspapers statewide, the Back to Basics PAC angles to turn Gov. Rick Perry's favorite selling point against him: the Texas economy.
Perry often touts job gains on his watch; in a recent TV spot, titled "Texas: Open for Business," he says Texas has gained more jobs than all other states combined from January 2001 to June 2010, a statement we recently rated True. Yet the latest Back to Basics ad finds fault, pointing out that Perry fails to acknowledge that lawmakers balanced the latest state budget partly by accepting billions of dollars in federal stimulus money.
The ad then lists some economic changes that have occurred since the governor wrote President Barack Obama in February 2009 assuring him that the state would accept the federal dollars. Punch line: "Perry won't tell you that the Texas unemployment rate has even grown more than the nation’s as a whole."
On its website, Back to Basics points to statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that the Texas unemployment rate between February 2009 and August 2010 rose from 6.8 percent to 8.3 percent, up 1.5 percentage points. During the same period, the U.S. unemployment rate grew from 8.2 percent to 9.6 percent, up 1.4 percentage points.
The number of jobless people in Texas grew by 204,400 during that time — an increase of 26 percent. Meanwhile, the nation as a whole experienced a 17 percent increase.
We checked with Cheryl Abbot, a bureau economist in Dallas, who told us that the figures used by Back to Basics were correct. She also told us that there were no statistical or logical problems with comparing the increase in the state's unemployment rate with that of the United States.
"I would probably phrase (the statement) more correctly as 'the unemployment rate has increased at a faster rate in Texas,' but saying that it's grown more, there's probably nothing wrong with putting it that way," Abbot said.
We asked Abbot how best to interpret the 0.1 percentage point gap between the changes in the national and state unemployment rates. She said "there is very little difference" between 1.5 and 1.4 in this context, noting that one interpretation of the numbers could be that during those 18 months, Texas' job performance was about the same as the nation's.
That's part of Back to Basics' point, said Cliff Walker, the group's director. Those numbers show Perry "isn't as good as he says he is," he said.
Next, we looked into whether changing the time period for comparing unemployment rates also changes the result.
We tried five different starting points -- January 2009, December 2008, November 2008, January 2007 and December 2000 -- and in all those cases, the Texas unemployment rate increased by the same number of percentage points as the national rate, or less. (December 2000 was when Perry entered the governor's office, and January 2007 was the beginning of his current term.)
When we asked Walker why Back to Basics started its time period of comparison with the month of Perry's letter to Obama, he told us that the group is "trying to draw attention to the fact that Perry took federal stimulus dollars — a fact that many Texans, more than a year and a half later, still do not know."
Our take: Back to Basics' statement accurately recaps a specific time period — the 18 months following Perry's acceptance of federal stimulus aid for Texas in February 2009 — that shows unemployment rising faster in Texas than the nation as a whole. As our analysis shows, though, lengthening the time period often yields a different result, with unemployment in Texas rising more slowly than the nation.
We rate the statement Mostly True.