Politifact Invokes Misleading Employment Numbers to Rate Conservative Group's Claims 'Half True'

May 31st, 2011 3:06 PM

This just in, by way of St. Petersburg Times fact-checking website Politifact: when considering irrelevant and misleading employment statistics, Texas has not, in fact, created more jobs in the past five years than the rest of the country combined.

Sure, when considering the relevant numbers - the ones that most honest observers would use - the claim, made by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in a recent ad, is perfectly factual. But through an exercise in pure semantics, Politifact was able to draw out a meaningless retort to TPPF's claims.

Politifact rated the statement "half-true" for using data on net job creation instead of gross job creation. In other words, taking into consideration that states can help and hinder job creation (and that doing the former isn't so useful if you're also doing the latter) was enough to penalize TPPF in Politifact's judgment. (Check below the break for further explanation on that score.)

Politifact first determined that TPPF's statement, made in the video above, was true, but with some qualifications:

So, the foundation’s figures stand up — in the way that such figures are often analyzed, including by PolitiFact.

Unsaid is that this gauge defines job creation as a net increase in employment. That means the foundation’s analysis only takes into account the number of jobs created in excess of the number lost over a five-year period.

But gross job creation is absolutely irrelevant to a measure of a state's economic climate as it pertains to job growth. If a state creates 5 million jobs but loses 10 million, it's far worse off from a relative employment perspective than a state that creates two jobs but only loses one. Or, as TPPF spokesman Josh Treviño put it:

If it occurred to anyone at PolitiFact that this methodology would enable a state to rack up its employment figures simply by firing the entire population each Friday, and re-hiring them all each Monday, there is no sign of it.

So after a lengthy back-and-forth over whether they should consider the relevant data or simply opt for semantics, Politifact…apparently couldn't decide.

The foundation’s claim that Texas "created more jobs than all other states combined" stands up — considering only those states that had net job gains over five years. That’s the methodology usually used to define job creation in public discourse.

But the foundation’s analysis disregards the 40 states where millions of jobs were created but were outnumbered by losses. And looking at the percentage increase in jobs relative to the size of each state’s work force — another telling statistic — two other states experienced greater gains than Texas.

We rate the foundation’s statement as Half True.

So by the relevant metric, TPPF is entirely correct. But Politifact deems its claim "Half True" for ignoring data - gross job creation - that has little if any bearing on economic health from the perspective of employment.

In fact, beyond the Obama administration's laughable "jobs saved or created" claims, it's hard to find any serious analysis that uses gross, not net, job creation as its means of measuring success in combating widespread unemployment. As Treviño notes:

To use “created more jobs,” or any of its variants — “job creation,” “created jobs,” et al. — to signify a net increase in jobs is a de facto universal rhetorical standard. It’s so common as to be assumed, and no reasonable person reads or hears otherwise. To pick just a few examples: Here’s President Barack Obama doing it. Here’s Gallup doing it. Here’s Michael Powell of the New York Times doing it. Here’s Dennis Cauchon of USA Today doing it. Here’s Pietro Garibaldi and Paolo Mauro of the International Monetary Fund doing it. Here’s Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doing it. Here’s Peter Cohan of Forbes doing it. Here’s Reuters and CNBC doing it. Here’s Peter Boyer of Newsweek doing it.

Is Politifact lying? No, of course not. They've just devised a mostly worthless (from the perspective of public policy) measure of employment and given it rhetorical weight equal to the standard that virtually every serious political and economic analyst or commentator uses. The site penalized TPPF for not basing its employment claims on data that has no bearing on economic policy aimed at creating jobs.

TPPF's mission in airing this ad was to support the notion that low taxes and limited government leads to more jobs. Gross job creation is irrelevant to that claim. Concludes Treviño: "We rate PolitiFact’s statement as Half True."