Labor Lies

Let’s start with the facts. The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a raft of economic data each month. That information contains a breakdown by state of employment growth and unemployment claims for every state including Oregon. It is data. It is politically neutral and represents, in part, the state of the economy. The “spin” on these facts is left to the politicians and the newspapers, both in what they say and what they don’t say. But the facts don’t lie.

From January 2006 to January 2007, Oregon’s total jobs increased from 1,684,200 to 1,712,700. That’s an increase of 1.7 percent. In comparison, Washington grew jobs at the rate of 2.4 percent, Idaho at the rate of 3.8 percent, Nevada at the rate of 3.2 percent, Arizona at the rate of 4.2 percent, and Utah at the rate of 3.3 percent. The January 2007 unemployment rate for Oregon was 5.2 percent. That compares to Washington at 5.1 percent, Idaho at 3.0 percent, Nevada at 4.5 percent, Arizona at 4.2 percent, and Utah at 2.6 percent. The national average was 4.2 percent. Only eight states in the nation, including the District of Columbia, had higher unemployment rates than Oregon. Two of those states, Michigan and Ohio, were hit hard by the massive layoffs in the automobile industry. In 2006, only seven states had higher unemployment rates than Oregon.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of job growth in broad categories of employment. From January 2006 to January 2007, Oregon lost 800 jobs in natural resources and mining, 2,500 jobs in construction, and 2,200 jobs in manufacturing for a total job loss of 5,500. At the same time, Oregon increased employment in the leisure and hospitality sector by 8,100 jobs. Of course, the government sector continued to grow by 1,800 jobs.

Now, those are the facts. You can categorize the facts for yourself. For those heavily invested in the economic policies of Governor Kulongoski and his public labor union pals, you can headline this as unusually robust employment growth, as the Oregonian did last month. But in doing so, you ignore all the comparative data for the nation and for the states surrounding Oregon, with whom Oregon competes directly. You also ignore other economic data, such as the fact that the state’s highly touted entrepreneurial $100 million investment fund could only place 7 percent of that money in Oregon businesses.

You could ignore the anecdotal information about businesses that have left Oregon or the wealthy business leaders who have retired and moved across the river to Washington to avoid Oregon’s tax burden. In doing so, you join a long list of liberals who seem to think you can ignore economic realities and live in a land of milk and honey without effort or care. It is the moral equivalent of believing you can pick up dog poop by the clean end.

Or you can take a more pessimistic but realistic view that Oregon continues to be mired at the bottom of the heap … that while a strong national economy has boosted all parts of the nation, Oregon continues its lackluster performance … that Oregon’s inattention to its anti-business environment, its business-chilling high tax burdens, its tax-and-spend legislatures, and its excessive regulatory burdens, has deterred businesses from locating, growing or remaining in Oregon.

You could go further and note that while there has been a modest growth in overall jobs over the past year, growth has come at the expense of high-paying manufacturing, construction and natural resource jobs. You could note that almost all of Oregon job growth has occurred in the minimum wage jobs associated with the leisure and hospitality industries. You could conclude that Oregon is rapidly widening, through its job shifts, the gap between the rich and the poor. You could conclude that if you are a skilled, college-educated worker in Oregon, you should look elsewhere for a job. But, if you are looking for employment as a waiter, cook, dishwasher, janitor, maid, domestic, or gardener, Oregon is your place — particularly Portland, where the trust fund rich are providing tons of opportunity for people to wait on their every need.

Facts don’t lie. Only those who manipulate the facts lie. In the world of politics, lies can be told by misstating the facts or by leaving facts out. Now you have the facts; make your own judgment.

BrainstormNW - April 2007

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