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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Jeb Bush’s Jobs Claim

In touting conservative policies in Republican-controlled states, Jeb Bush claimed, “The Southeast is leading a renaissance in American manufacturing.” Not so. The Midwest has experienced a 9 percent increase in manufacturing jobs since the sector began its recovery in February 2010. That’s double the growth rate of the nine states in the Southeast.

The U.S. has added about 521,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 37 months and four of the five biggest job-producing states were Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Michigan had the biggest gains — both in net jobs (86,300 jobs) and on a percentage basis (an increase of nearly 19 percent).

The Southeast? It added 100,800 manufacturing jobs during that same time, but a quarter of them were in Kentucky – which has a Democratic governor and a split Legislature.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is considered a possible 2016 presidential contender, wrote an April 29 opinion piece that carried the headline, “Conservatives are winning … in the states.” In it, he wrote that Republicans control 30 gubernatorial seats (“the highest number in 13 years”) and 26 state legislatures. He’s right about GOP governors, but he actually shortchanged the party in state legislatures (it’s 27 under GOP control, not 26).

What got our attention was his comment about U.S. manufacturing, which he says is experiencing a “renaissance” because of “conservative, pro-growth” policies in Southeast states under Republican control.

Bush, April 29: The Southeast is leading a renaissance in American manufacturing.

Bush cited a February report by the conservative Manhattan Institute as the basis for his claim. But the report does not say that the Southeast is leading a manufacturing renaissance.

Author Joel Kotkin identified four “growth regions” — including the Southeast Manufacturing Belt — that he predicted could “look forward to robust expansion in the years ahead.” A press release said that “a combination of low housing costs, above average population growth, and business-friendly government” in these four regions “can restart the American growth engine.” It said this will occur “over the next 40 years.”

As for the Southeast’s post-recession performance, Kotkin wrote that “some states that constitute the Southeast Manufacturing Belt region — Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas — have recovered slowly since the Great Recession. Yet we believe in the continued emergence of this region, largely because of the continuing shift of population to this region.” Kotkin also includes parts of Arkansas and Virginia in the Southeast.

The report did not provide any data on manufacturing job growth. However, we do.

We analyzed BLS data for manufacturing jobs from February 2010, when U.S. manufacturing jobs hit a low point at 11,460,000 jobs, until March 2013, the most recent jobs report. The chart below shows the change in net manufacturing jobs and the percentage increase or decrease in all 50 states, and we highlighted the nine states Kotkin calls the Southeast Manufacturing Belt.

Kotkin doesn’t include Florida in his definition of “Southeast,” although the BLS does include it. He includes Florida in a region he calls the “Third Coast.” Florida, where Republicans control the governor’s office and the Legislature, has gained about 6,300 manufacturing jobs in the 37-month period — an increase of 2 percent.

Our findings:

  • The nine states Kotkin identifies as Southeastern states saw a net gain of 100,800 manufacturing jobs — an increase of 4.5 percent, the same as the national percentage increase.
  • The 12 Midwestern states, as identified by the BLS, had a net gain of 314,100 manufacturing jobs — an increase of nearly 9 percent, double the Southeast percentage increase.
  • The Southeastern state that saw the biggest manufacturing jobs gain was Kentucky, which has a Democratic governor and a split Legislature.
  • The Southeastern state with the biggest drop in net manufacturing jobs was Arkansas, which has a Democratic governor and a Republican Legislature.
  • Four of the five top jobs producing states were in the Midwest: Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Combined, they saw a net increase of about 226,100 jobs — 43 percent of all net manufacturing jobs.

In an email to us, Kotkin said the Midwestern states are leading the recovery through a combination of a federal auto bailout supported by Democrats and pro-growth policies supported by state Republicans.

“It’s interesting too that the states in Midwest leading that recovery are run pretty much by Republicans while Illinois continues to suffer,” he said. “I think for some states the bailout of car industry (which Republicans criticize for a variety of reasons) and pro-business policies has turned out to be a fortuitous combination, even if neither side much likes it.”

Tom Dubin, president of Manufacturers’ News, which also surveys manufacturers to come up with its own jobs figures, told us in an interview that BLS figures for manufacturing jobs are higher than recorded by his own company. However, he also said the manufacturing job gains largely have been in the Midwest. “Michigan, Indiana and to a lesser extent Wisconsin,” Dubin said.

In Michigan, Dubin cited the auto industry revival and business-friendly policies, including a cut in the Michigan business tax rate to 6 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2012. Dubin said the increase in “transportation equipment” jobs in Michigan last year “was higher than the overall state increase” in jobs.

Jeb Bush has a point about the future of manufacturing jobs in the Southeast. But, for now, it is not “leading a renaissance in American manufacturing.”

Bush isn’t the first politician to say that America is enjoying a manufacturing boom. It’s a claim made by both parties in a bid to appeal to middle-income workers. During the presidential campaign, Vice President Joe Biden declared in a speech in Iowa that “manufacturing is back!” As we wrote then, Biden was spinning the numbers. As is the case now, the manufacturing jobs added since 2010 do not offset the losses that have occurred during the Obama administration and certainly don’t offset the steep decline that has devastated the industry for more than a decade.

We put the question to Dubin: Is there a renaissance in American manufacturing, as Bush says?

“I think we show that over the past three years the U.S. has gained 500,000 manufacturing jobs, which sounds great until you realize that we lost 5.7 million between 2000 and 2010,” Dubin said. “I classify that as a slow recovery more than a renaissance.”


— Eugene Kiely