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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Tale of Two Jobs Numbers

Rick Perry, in his last official speech as Texas governor, mixed and matched jobs data to embellish the state’s job gains.

Perry claimed Texas had created 1.4 million jobs since December 2007 while the rest of the United States lost 400,000 jobs. Actually, according to the job-growth measure used by most economists, the rest of the country gained more than 500,000 jobs.

In the same speech, Perry used the standard job-growth measure to claim that Texas had “created almost one-third of all the nation’s new jobs” since he took office. And he claimed that his state had created 441,000 jobs in the past year — again, using the standard job-growth measure. But if he had stuck with the jobs data he used to compare Texas’ growth since 2007 to the rest of the nation’s, he would have had to cite a number that’s more than 100,000 jobs lower than the one he used.

Perry, who officially left office Jan. 20, gave his final speech to state lawmakers on Jan. 15. During his speech, he used two different jobs data sets maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, in doing so, overstated the state’s job growth and understated the job gains in the rest of the country.

Let’s first look at his statement comparing Texas to the rest of the nation (see the 11:40 mark).

Perry, Jan. 15: In fact, if you look at the last seven years, starting in December of 2007, you’ll see that 1.4 million jobs were created in Texas. In that same period, the rest of the country lost 400,000 jobs.

In this case, Perry used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey data — called the Current Population Survey, which is a monthly survey of 60,000 households that’s used to calculate the unemployment rate. But for job growth figures, most economists prefer BLS’ nonfarm payroll data — called the Current Employment Statistics survey, a monthly survey of about 550,000 business establishments that include millions of employees. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco describes the nonfarm payroll data as “the more accurate employment indicator,” saying that “[m]ost analysts believe that payroll jobs more closely reflects labor market conditions.”

In fact, BLS itself uses nonfarm payroll data to calculate job growth figures it releases monthly.

The household survey is a much smaller sample size, and it also counts as “employed” people who aren’t on a payroll, such as unpaid family workers, the self-employed including day laborers, and private household workers. It also includes agricultural workers and those who are absent from work and not receiving pay.

It takes some digging on the BLS website to pull up the household survey employment data used by Perry for Texas and the country as a whole. Those numbers show a loss of 352,440 employed people for the rest of the nation, not quite the 400,000 Perry cited, while the number of people employed in Texas rose by 1.4 million.

But if Perry had used economists’ preferred measure, he would have found that Texas created 1.2 million jobs since December 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession. The rest of the country, meanwhile, created 532,000 jobs.

Even using the preferred job-growth measure, Texas does better than the rest of the country. (As we have noted in the past, Texas’ positive job growth has been a long-term trend that predates Perry.) In fact, Perry’s claim that Texas had gained jobs while the rest of the country had lost jobs was accurate through the summer and up until the fall of last year. In July, Texas’ total job creation since December 2007 stood at 1.1 million; the rest of the country had lost more than 400,000 jobs during the same time period. It wasn’t until October that the U.S.-without-Texas began showing positive job numbers since the beginning of the recession.

Interestingly, Perry used the standard measure of job creation – the nonfarm payroll data (seasonally adjusted) — when he claimed Texas had created 441,000 jobs in the past year. It’s not hard to see why he used a different data set in this case. If he had used the household survey, as he did when comparing Texas with the rest of the country, then he would have had to cite a number that’s more than 100,000 lower than the one he used.

Perry also accurately claimed, again using the nonfarm payroll data for both Texas and the nation, that “since I became governor, with your help, we have created almost one-third of all the nation’s new jobs.” Texas had created 30 percent of the nation’s job growth from December 2000, when Perry took office, through November 2014, the most recent month for which state figures are available.

We’ve seen other politicians over the years use the household survey to make puffed-up claims about job growth, including former governors and presidential candidates Bill Richardson and Jon Huntsman. By using the household survey, they were claiming greater job growth than what the BLS payroll survey showed.

Perry’s claim can be linked to posts on this topic by Mark J. Perry, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and an economics professor, who makes clear that he is using the household survey data, also called “civilian employment.” He says it is “a more comprehensive measure of all US workers.”

That’s his opinion. As we explained, the BLS, and the Federal Reserve, use the nonfarm payroll data for job growth figures. But in his farewell address, Perry isn’t clear at all on which measurement he’s using.

We’d note that in all three claims, Texas’ job growth looked better using the yardstick Perry chose.

— Lori Robertson