Rick Perry's Texas is no 'miracle', it's a mirage

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Over the weekend, Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

With former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty now out of the race, Perry’s entry has changed the dynamics of the 2012 campaign. It’s now effectively a three-way race between Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney competing for frontrunner status. And Perry wasted no time going after President Obama and giving himself props for his jobs record in Texas.

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In one of his first two campaign ads, entitled “Time to Get America Working Again,” Perry markets himself as “America’s jobs governor.” While touting the governor’s record on jobs, the narrator in the video goes after Obama, asserting that “record debt and our president’s refusal to control spending led to our nation’s credit rating being downgraded for the first time in history.”

There can be no denying that the Lone Star State has led the nation in job growth over the past year. And over the past decade, Texas has added a net of 1 million new jobs. While the country was mired in recession between December 2007 and November 2009, the state expanded its labor force by 600,000.

“Our economic strength is no accident,” Perry said earlier this year in his state of the state address. “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.”

But what kind of jobs are we talking about here?

You must read the fine print. If the devil is in the details, it is not favorable to Rick Perry’s presidential aspirations should he find himself as his party’s nominee in the general election, toe-to-toe with Barack Obama.

Texas has benefited from a rapid growth rate due to the state’s Latino population, and has attracted businesses with its low-regulation, low-tax environment.

Further, the dirty little secret of the “Texas Miracle” is that most of the newly created jobs aren’t worth having. Texas leads the nation in low wage jobs, which accounted for 37 percent of jobs created in that state last year. At $11.20 an hour, median wages in Texas are below the national median of $12.50 an hour. In 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 550,000 Texans were working at or below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour—around 9.5 percent of hourly workers in Texas— causing Texas to tie with Mississippi as the leader in low wage jobs. This gives new meaning to the saying “Texas is like Mississippi with paved roads.”

Moreover, many of these jobs lack health insurance benefits. In fact, with one in four Texans lacking health insurance, the Lone Star State also leads the nation in the percentage of its citizens who go without healthcare.

Need a job? Don’t go to Texas. With unemployment at 8 percent, unemployment in Texas is below the national rate, but higher than a host of states that make no claims about an economic miracle, like Massachusetts, Virginia and New York. Meanwhile, Texas is unable to create enough jobs to keep up with its rising population. This, as double-digit unemployment in some Texas counties, and the homeless shelters are bursting at the seams as poverty is on the rise.

Try as Perry might to lambast Obama’s record on jobs and the economy, the president accomplished a great deal by saving the U.S. from another Great Depression. Obama inherited a train wreck of an economy from his predecessor George W. Bush, the former Texas governor for whom Perry served as his lieutenant governor. Arguably, Tea Party Republicans have made a concerted effort to further damage the economy for political gain, as evidenced by the recent debt ceiling sideshow in Congress, which led to the downgrade of U.S. debt.

Many in the president’s own party argue his recovery package was far too modest, containing too many tax cuts and not nearly enough stimulus to repair the economy—and rightly so. Now that the economy is going nowhere in a hurry, and his approval with it, even in bluest of blue New York, one could argue that the president is losing ground.

President Obama sings the praises of austerity and deficit cutting when people care about employment, then scrambles to address the jobs crisis when he has far less political capital to enact a jobs program. Nevertheless, for all of the flaws of the Obama stimulus program, it added 2.7 million jobs to the rolls, boosted 2010 real GDP by 3.4 percent, and kept unemployment 1½ percentage points lower. Red states and blue states alike depended on that money to pay the bills. And none of the presidential hopefuls, including Perry, have been tested as has this president.

This brings us to another important point: Gov. Perry relied more on those stimulus funds than any other governor, having used Obama’s money to pay for 97 percent of his state’s $27 billion budget shortfall. That’s a lot of ribs. Perry has used accounting gimmicks filled with IOUs, hidden shortfalls and raids on the rainy day fund to appear fiscally responsible, as Texas suffers from a $4.5 billion structural budget deficit due to insufficient revenues from a botched tax reform plan.

At a time when a population boom should translate into increased expenditures on social services, Texas is cutting Medicaid by 12 percent, and slashing public education by a staggering $4 billion. As a result, school districts will be forced to lay off teachers, increase class sizes and raise property taxes.

Lifting the veil on the Texas Miracle is one of a number of problems facing Rick Perry. He comes to the race with a veritable army of extremist, right wing pastors who have made countless outrageous and bigoted remarks. No doubt, his bevy of pastors could prove a virtue for winning the primaries, yet may follow Perry to the general election and curse him should he win the Republican nomination.

Meanwhile, he reminds us far too much of Bush, another Texan, with his cowboy swagger and folksy ways. But in any case, the public does not need another president from Texas to take the country to the brink of ruin. They have has been down the road of electing someone who could pass for their drinking buddy before, and will unlikely revisit it in the foreseeable future.

Rick Perry’s job-creation miracle is a mirage. Better yet, it is smoke and mirrors. The only thing miraculous about the Texas economy is the praise heaped on Perry for creating thousands of dead-end, poverty-wage jobs. With no benefits, and the worst worker safety record in the country. Before he assails the President Obama on his economic record, Mr. Perry should take a good look at his own backyard.