Rick Perry and his Texas jobs boom: The whole story

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Texas has created a lot of jobs over the 10 years that Rick Perry’s been governor — there’s no doubt about it.

Perry, who is formally launching his presidential candidacy on Saturday, is making his state’s economic prowess a centerpiece of his campaign. Already he’s been bragging about his state being the “epicenter of job growth.”

Texas has gained more than 1 million net new jobs in the decade Perry has led the state. And it’s been going strong since the recession ended.

“We are home to fewer than one in 10 Americans … but four in 10 new American jobs are in our state,” he told a conference of state legislators from around the nation this week.

But that doesn’t mean that all is well with employment in the Lone Star State. Texas leads the nation in minimum-wage jobs, and many positions don’t offer health benefits. Also, steep budget cuts are expected to result in the loss of more than 100,000 jobs.

Perhaps most importantly, Texas can’t create jobs fast enough to keep up with its rapidly growing population. Since 2007, the state’s number of working-age residents expanded by 6.6%, nearly twice the national average.

Factoring in that population growth means Texas would need to create another 629,000 jobs, or 5.6% more positions, just to reach its pre-recession employment level, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“They have a long way to go before they get back to a positive place,” said Doug Hall, director of the Economic Analysis and Research Network, an institute project.

Still, Texas has been adding jobs at a rapid clip since the recession’s end in 2009. The state has created nearly 297,000 net new positions since June of that year, representing a major chunk of the nation’s 715,000 gain, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of course, Texas enjoys advantages that have nothing to do with having Perry at the helm. Rich in natural resources, the state has been benefiting from the high price of oil and the expanded interest in natural gas exploration. Energy employment has soared by 16.8% over the past year alone.

While the energy sector is driving much of the recent jobs expansion, nearly all industries are doing well, said Jim Gaines, research economist at The Real Estate Center at Texas AM University.

Construction jobs, for instance, have grown by 5.4% in the past year, according to the center. Employment in professional services is up 4.5% and in the hospitality business by 3%. Only the government and information technology sectors have seen drops, of 1.4% and 5%, respectively.

“Texas has fared better than most of the nation,” said Terry Clower, who directs the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas. “Private sector job creation has been pretty strong compared to most other states.”

The secret, according to Perry, is low taxes, predictable regulation, a fair legal system, and a skilled workforce. And he’s been sharing it with companies around the country, hoping to lure them to his state. Some are heeding his siren call, lured by the state’s low cost of doing business, as well as Texas Enterprise Fund, which has awarded companies $440 million to relocate since it was created in 2003.

Texas, however, still faces many challenges on the jobs front. Many of the positions that have been created are on the lower end of the pay scale. Some 550,000 workers last year were paid at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25, more than double the number making those wages in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s 9.5% of Texas’ hourly workforce, which gives it the highest percentage of minimum-wage hourly workers in the nation — a dubious title it shares with Mississippi.

“We have created jobs, but they are not jobs with good wages and benefits,” said F. Scott McCown, executive director, Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income residents.

Going forward, the Lone Star State will have to work even harder to create jobs. That’s because Perry signed a budget in May that slashes $15 billion in government spending over the next two years. Also, the federal stimulus funds that poured into the state since 2009 have largely dried up.

The state budget cuts alone could result in the loss of more than 100,000 jobs, many of them in the public sector, Clower said. Thousands of teachers are already feeling the impact of more than $5 billion in cuts to education funding.

The state’s rapidly expanding population has been both a blessing and a curse. While it has spurred the creation of jobs to service the new residents, it has also kept the state’s unemployment rate higher than one would expect for a place that’s adding so many positions. Texas’ unemployment rate is 8.2% — lower than the nation’s, but higher than 25 other states.

Unless Perry can push job creation into overdrive, the rate is likely to stay high, economists say.

“Our labor force is growing substantially faster than we can grow jobs,” Gaines said. To top of page

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