Rick Perry’s ‘Texas Miracle’ Turned Out to Be a Mirage

The latest jobs numbers have propelled talk of a “Texas miracle” as Gov. Rick Perry continues to consider a run for the presidency. But Texas’ unemployment rate is higher than that of all four states bordering it — and it’s up slightly from last year.

Should he ultimately choose to run for the White House, Governor Perry will be spending a lot of his time on the stump repeating those lines. But if you look closer you’ll find rising unemployment, a glut of low-wage jobs without benefits, overcrowded homeless shelters and public schools facing billions in budget cuts. Photo: Ed Schipul/Flickr.

In his February 2011 state-of-the-state address, Governor Rick Perry boasted: “Our economic strength is no accident. It’s a testimony to our people, our entrepreneurs, and, yes, to the decisions made in this building.

Employers from across the country and around the world understand that the opportunity they crave can be found in Texas, and they’re headed our way, with jobs in tow.”

According to data released this month by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas gained more jobs in June 2011, 32,000, and more jobs this year, 220,000, than any other state in the country.

To put these numbers in perspective: The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this week that 237,000 out of the 496,000 jobs added to the national work force since June 2009 were in Texas. That’s more than a hefty share.

At the same time these job openings mostly include low-wage jobs. “If you want a bad job, go to Texas,” said Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman (D), who represents a district in Houston, in an interview with The Huffington Post.

“If you want to work at Carl’s Jr., our doors are open, and if you want to go to a crumbling school in a failing school system, this is the place to come.”

Of the all the jobs in Texas created last year, 37 percent paid at or below minimum wage — and the state leads the nation in total minimum wage workers, according to a recent New York Times report.

“The important thing to do is not to just count jobs but to look at what kinds of jobs are being created in Texas,” explained Dick Lavine, a Senior Fiscal Analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

“Texas is tied for last with Mississippi for the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs and Texas is by far the leader of residents who don’t have health insurance. It’s low wage jobs without any benefits.”

Texas still ranks as the most dangerous state for worker safety. An April study produced by the University of Texas and the Workers Defense Project stated that one in five construction workers were injured on the job, while only 45 percent had workers’ compensation. The study also noted that a worker dies every 2.5 days and the state sees 16,900 job-related accidents annually.

One in five workers complained that their employers had paid them less than what they were owed. Being allowed adequate drinking water is even an issue. Nearly a third of the workers surveyed reported that their employers did not provide them with access to drinking water.

Emily Timm, a policy analyst with the Workers Defense Project, said her organization has only seen a further rise in worker problems. “We’re seeing more complaints of wage theft than we ever have before,” she said. “We’re also seeing more and more workers being misclassified as independent contractors.”

“What is almost certainly happening is that although Texas has created far more jobs that any other state, it has also seen workforce expansion at a rapid rate due to both demographics (a growing pool of young people entering the job market) and migration due to the perception of better opportunities here,” Ray Perryman, CEO of an economic research and analysis firm based in Waco, said in an email to the Texas Tribune.

Another problem is overcrowded shelters. The ARCH created a shelter which was designed for 100 dormitory beds. But now there sleeps 215 — including 115 men sleeping on mats on the second floor dining room and a conference room floor. Even then, Mitchell Gibbs, the director of development and communications, said they are turning away 15 to 50 men a night.

These workers, Gibbs said, included bakers from downtown hotels who simply couldn’t afford Austin rents.

If there is continued job growth in Texas, the trend continues to point toward the low-skilled, low-wage variety. According to a just-released Georgetown University study, Texas ranks 41 among all 50 states in the percentage of jobs requiring post-secondary education.

But BLS data also shows that Texas’ unemployment rate remained relatively stable, going up from 8.1 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent in June, while the unemployment rate in nearby states remained lower or dropped. Oklahoma’s rate fell the most, from 7 percent to 5.3 percent.

Because the unemployment rate measures the percentage of unemployed people in the workforce, if both the size of the workforce and the number of jobs increase simultaneously, the unemployment rate will stay relatively stable.

Like most things in Texas, the workforce (i.e., the number of people working or actively searching for a job) is larger than in neighboring states.

The Texas Workforce Commission says the combined workforce of the four states bordering Texas is 6 million — less than half the size of the Texas workforce, which is 12.2 million. And the labor forces in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma all declined in size from June 2010 to June 2011, while Texas’ increased by 140,600.

Quality of life indexes like child poverty rates put Texas further behind. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) told The Huffington Post her state ranks 48th in teen birth rates, 50th in prenatal care and 46th in income disparity — and 50th in the number of persons who receive a high school diploma by age 25.

With Texas’ minimal regulation and low taxes — and Perry’s cheerleading — a spike in job growth during the past few years became known as the Texas Miracle. The rise in oil and gas prices, as well as a long-time state law protecting homeowners, helped stave off the recession for a while.

And as a result, a miracle myth was created, with little exploration as to what impact Perry’s policies actually had on the economic picture. The miracle is that anyone would call minimum-wage jobs a miracle.

Of the all the jobs in Texas created last year, 37 percent paid at or below minimum wage — and the state leads the nation in total minimum wage workers, according to a recent New York Times report. [via Huffpost and The Texas Tribune]

Share this article

We welcome comments that advance the story directly or with relevant tangential information. We try to block comments that use offensive language, all capital letters or appear to be spam, and we review comments frequently to ensure they meet our standards. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Coinspeaker Ltd.