The latest Texas jobs numbers will be released today, and a positive report would bolster Gov. Rick Perry's economic message on the campaign trail.
The state's unemployment rate for the past two years has hovered around 8 percent, or about 1 percent lower than the national average — a statistic that Perry has touted on the campaign trail. But a political battle has erupted over Texas' economic numbers.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
"By and large, the high-wage industries have been shrinking over the last four years,” says Don Baylor, an analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal state policy think tank.
“And the low-wage ones, which are primarily responsive to massive population growth we've had in Texas, have been growing the most rapidly. So that's really the reality. That there are a lot more fast food [restaurants] in Texas then there were five years ago. And those jobs typically start at the bottom of the wage scale.”
Baylor says it now costs more to attend college, and that more than a quarter of Texas workers don't have health insurance. Meanwhile, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 10 percent of Texas workers are paid the minimum wage or less, compared with 6 percent nationally. But Robert Duvic, a business lecturer at the University of Texas, says that’s the wrong way to frame the argument.
"I just think, bad jobs and good jobs — there's a lot more than just ‘the higher the salary the better,’” Duvic says. “Certainly, the higher the salary, that's nice. But there's respect to be given to these people.”
He says families still take pride in the work they do, whether it's high paying or not, and that the state's aggressive efforts to recruit businesses and create a business-friendly environment have benefited the state.
"Now, we have to do a better job on education and giving people the ability to improve themselves,” Duvic says. “But having jobs is the first step."
Perry's glowing assessments of the economy also got a boost this week from Richard Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, who cautioned against bashing the state's job growth. Fisher challenged columnists and commentators from The New York Times and Fox News to stick to the facts, and he said that 68 percent of the jobs created in Texas over the last two years have been in sectors that pay good salaries.
"Our economy is really diverse,” says Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “It's supporting job creation throughout numerous industries. You know we've got not just energy but high tech, financial services, communications, business, and each of these jobs represents a livelihood for a Texan and their family."